Archive for the ‘Construction’ Category

Some Huichon Power Stations go operational on Chongchon River

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

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Pictured Above (Google Earth): Huichon Power Station No. 9, site of the opening ceremony

According to Rodong Sinmun (2015-11-9):

Multi-tier power stations on the River Chongchon went operational.

The stations are the labor gifts the Korean people presented to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) with loyalty.

The 10 multi-tier power stations in the 80 km-long section of the River Chongchon would contribute to the building of an economic power and improvement of people’s living standard.

An inaugural ceremony of the power stations was held at Huichon Power Station No. 9 on November 17.

Present there were leading officials of the party and state, the ministers of electric power industry, metal industry, railways, construction and building-materials industry, electronics industry and machine-building industry, the president of the State Academy of Sciences, the chief secretaries of the provincial committees of the WPK, officials and members of shock brigades who took part in the construction of the power stations and others.

A congratulatory message from the Central Committee of the WPK to the builders, officials and helpers who performed shinning labor feats in building the power stations was conveyed by Pak Pong Ju, member of the Political Bureau of the C.C., the WPK and premier of the DPRK Cabinet.

O Su Yong, member of the Political Bureau and secretary of the C.C., the WPK, said in his inaugural speech that the completion of the 10 multi-tier power stations on the River Chongchon in a short span of time as monumental structures in the era of Marshal Kim Jong Un is of great significance in demonstrating the rapid development of Songun Korea.

The speaker called upon the builders of power stations on the River Chongchon to demonstrate their heroic stamina once again in the all-out drive for presenting a labor gift to the 7th Congress of the WPK with loyalty.

UPDATE: Note that the article does not claim that ALL of the hydro power plants on the Chongchon River are operational. In the March 2016 Korea pictorial magazine, did a feature on Huichon Power Stations Nos. 3, 4, 8, 9, and 11. 1 and 2 were previously constructed. There are construction sites available on Google Earth for plants 5,6,7, and 10, but I am not sure about specific names for each. I am also unsure if the Hyangsan Army-People Youth Power Station near Hyangsan is being renamed and included in the Chongchon River plants.

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KCNA reports on cost of Mirae Scientists Street?

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

Mirae-Scientists-street

Pictured above (Google Earth): The Mirae Scientists Street under construction (2015-5-20)

According to the Korea Times:

North Korea has invested about 10 billion won in North Korean currency creating a big housing precinct for scientists in Pyongyang, Yonhap reported Thursday.

The Korean Central News Agency said the communist regime had spent about 9.9 billion won on 19 buildings to house 2,584 households and commercial and public facilities.

The first phase was completed on April 15, the birthday of late North Korean leader Kim Il-sung. Phase two was finished on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean Workers’ Party on Oct. 10.

Leader Kim Jong-un was quoted as saying the new street reflects the “love for people, respect for people and politics that puts people first” of the North Korean Workers’ Party.

For what it is worth KPW9.9 billion is approximately US$1.237 million on the black market, which comes to just $478/household assuming they each got an individual unit.

However, I would not get to hung up on these numbers, I cannot find any story in KCNA on the cost of Mirae Scientists Street, so until I hear an official estimate, I am going to put an * next to these numbers.

Here is what KCNA had to say about Kim Jong-un’s tour of the recently completed Mirae Scientists Street:

Pyongyang, October 21 (KCNA) — Kim Jong Un, first secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, first chairman of the National Defence Commission of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, went round Mirae Scientists Street, which was successfully completed as a model of Juche-oriented architecture and fairy street in the era of the Workers’ Party.
Feasting his eyes on the street, he said the longer one watches it, the more magnificent and spectacular it looks. He noted with pleasure that it proves visually the idea of the Workers’ Party of Korea of attaching importance to science and talents, it is a fashionable street of perfect combination of the Juche character, national identity, originality and formative art and unique one of our style which appeared in the capital city of Pyongyang as an icon of cultural efflorescence.

He said it is something unimaginable to build a street with flats for thousands of families and more than 150 public catering outlets in a matter of just one year by the existing method of construction. He noted with excitement that the completion of Mirae Scientists Street convinces everybody that the appearance of the country would undergo beyond recognition a decade later as everything is done in just one year instead of ten years.

Going round different places of the street, he learned in detail about the construction.

He said that it is fantastic, indeed, to watch the tower symbolic of the 53-storied skyscraper which has been built like an electronic track so that one may know it is Mirae Scientists Street even from distance, adding that formative art was applied to all the buildings at a very high level.

He was pleased that the flats have been constructed at the best quality and teachers and researchers would need to bring with them only hand luggage as their drawing rooms, parents’ rooms, rooms for couples, children’s rooms, kitchens, etc. are fitted with high-quality furniture and fixtures,

Hearing officials say foreigners will hardly believe that ordinary educators and scientists of the country will live free of charge in such deluxe apartment houses in the street on the picturesque bank of the Taedong River, he said that it is the advantages of the socialist system in the DPRK which capitalist countries can neither imitate nor build.

He praised the builders for having built all kinds of public catering and cultural and welfare establishments on the ground floors of the buildings in an impeccable manner to meet requirements of settlers.

He noted with appreciation that resting places and sporting parks have been built in a peculiar style so that residents might have good rest and do sports and greening in the residential area and the project for reinforcing banks of the river were done very well.

It is the steadfast will of our party to consolidate the foundation of socialism by dint of science and advance socialism with the power of the engine of science, he said, stressing the need to steadily increase substantial investment in the scientific researches on the basis of the successes and experience gained in the work for consolidating the material and technical foundations of different scientific research bases and improving the living standard of the scientists and researchers in recent years.

All the buildings of the street spruced up at a speed unprecedented in the history of construction are laudable structures of Songun Korea built by our service personnel and people with the will to create everything dear in their own style by their own efforts at a lightning speed, optimistic about the future, and they are valuable crystal of their patriotism, he said, extending thanks to the units of the Korean People’s Army and other units which participated in the construction, builders and helpers in the name of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

He expressed expectation and belief that all the builders would give fullest play to the inexhaustible mental power displayed in the construction of Mirae Scientists Street and make a positive contribution to turning Pyongyang City into a hub of Songun culture and the most magnificent and fashionable city of the world fame in all aspects and building the socialist country into a highly civilized nation.

He gave an instruction on inaugurating the street.

He was accompanied by Hwang Pyong So, Kim Ki Nam, Kim Yang Gon, O Su Yong, Jo Yong Won and Ma Won Chun.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea pours 10 billion won into street for scientists
Korea Times
2015-10-22

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On the Hyesan and Sinuiju real estate markets

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

According to the Daily NK:

Construction of new apartment buildings is being accelerated in North Pyongan Province’s Sinuiju and Hyesan, Yanggang Province, with low rise apartments fetching the highest price at nearly US $10,000. Unlike Sinuiju, which has high rise buildings, Hyesan is mainly constructing low rise apartments. Apartments at or above the fifth floor are being called “Royal Suites,” and selling for big money, according to inside sources.

In a telephone conversation with the Daily NK on October 1st, a source in Yanggang Province explained, “Hyesan is currently undergoing a makeover. New apartments are going up all over the city. Residents are preferring the high rise apartments despite their relative scarcity, or perhaps because of it. Right now a fifth floor, two room apartment (approximately 80-120 square feet) sells for 60,000-70,000 Yuan (US $10,000- $11,000) is the most expensive.”

Another source in Yanggang Province confirmed this development.

In Hyesan, the lower floors go for much cheaper; apartments in floors 1-3 usually sell for about 20,000 – 25,000 Yuan (US $3,000 – $4,000).

“The prices tend to be tied to the floor level like this,” she explained.

“By the time the Korean Workers’ Party Foundation Day holiday arrives on October 10th, Hyesan will look like a totally new city. But construction is not limited to Hyesan; we also see apartment buildings shooting up in Hyesan’s suburbs and riverside regions, in Tabsongdong near Hyesan Stadium, and in Hyemyeongdong, an area filled with statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.”

Added the source, “Much of the construction is due to investment from the Hwagyo [community of overseas Chinese] residing here. They buy one story houses at a very cheap price and then build up a multi-storied apartment and sell it off. They are making a good amount of money through the sales, but the residents are happy to be enjoying the more modern living spaces, so it’s a win-win.”

When asked why the residents prefer apartments on higher floors, the source said that “people are less worried about theft of furniture and large appliances when they live higher up.” In years past, she asserted, most people preferred to be ground level so that they could have access to the yard for planting vegetables. But now, “ lots of folks are worried about flood damage during the rainy season or the possibility of theft.”

She continued to describe the state of one story homes, saying, “houses near Nongnim University or the Hyesan train station sell for approximately 25,000 Yuan (US $4,000). Homes in Yeonbong Il Dong sell for rather cheap at 5,000 Yuan (~$800). However, there are some pricier places in Yeonbong located near the jangmadang (marketplace) that sell for about 20,000 Yuan (~US $3,000).”

Last week the currency conversion rate in Hyesan was 1 Yuan/1320 KPW. That means that a 60,000 Yuan apartment sells for about 80 million KPW (~US $70,000) and a cheaper home selling for 5,000 Yuan sells for about 6.5 million KPW (~ US $7,000).

Read the full story here:
Hwagyo investors fuel building boom
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2015-10-2

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In Pyongyang, it’s “out with the old, in with the TBD”…

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

Pyongyang’s construction boom is taking its toll on some of the city’s most historic landmarks. Recently while perusing on Google Earth I noticed one of central Pyongyang’s most unique (and old) buildings had been torn down.

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Pyongayang-apartment-2015-5-20

Here is what the building looked like before it was torn down (Source: Kernbeisser):

Apartment-building-Kernbeisser

At the time it was torn down, it housed the Taedongmun Restaurant (대동문식당), Student Library (학생도서관), Fishing Tackle Shop (낚시도구전문상점), and allegedly some kind of driving offenses office.

This was one of the first buildings to be constructed in Pyongyang following the Korean War. Images of the new building can be found in North Korea Caught in Time by Chris Springer (p80):

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It appears to have been built even before most of the buildings on Kim Il-sung Square.

A fellow North Korea enthusiast was able to provide some (actual) rare images of the building being torn down:

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I was also able to dig up a declassified CIA report published on 1959-5-14 (Slightly edited to improve reading experience) that contained some information on the building when it was constructed:

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Obviously the “D” wing was torn down sometime between 1959 and 2000. After the elimination of the original “D” wing, newer construction gave the building a distinct “L” shape.

Many apartment buildings in Pyongyang are being torn down. To see what will replace them, we will have to wait and see.

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Wonsan Kalma Airport imagery (UPDATED)

Monday, August 17th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-8-17): Kim Jong-un visited the Wonsan Airport (Kalma Airport) for an air force demonstration reported in Rodong Sinmun on July 30. You can see a video of that event here. A second official video claims that the demonstration took place on July 28. A satellite image of the facility was taken just the day before (July 27) and we can see some of the new facilities and preparation for Kim Jong-un’s arrival. I have already reported on most of this material at Radio Free Asia (새단장 갈마비행장…활주로에 광고도).

First, Google Earth imagery shows thousands of soldiers on the new runway practicing for Kim Jong-un’s arrival at the observation building. They can also be seen in the official images:

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We can also see the completed (on the outside) Wonsan Airport terminal building:

Wonsan-terminal-2015-7-27

Also unveiled is the new logo for the airport which reminds visitors that (despite the heavy military presence) the new airport welcomes civilian vacation travelers. We can see this design at both ends of the runway:

Wonsan-Kalma-airport-logo

We can also see what appears to be a (fifth!) runway for Kim Jong-un. This runway contains similar facilities to the new Kim Jong-il runway built in Taesong District for use of the individuals that live in the Kim Family’s Ryongsong Complex:

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Pictured above: The probable Kim Jong-un light aircraft runway at the Wonsan Kalma Airport

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Pictured above: Kim Jong-un’s runway in Taesong district of Pyongyang which bears a close resemblance to the facilities at the Wonsan Kalma Airport.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-5-1): New Google Earth imagery shows continued development of the new civilian airport in Wonsan. The airport is presumably intended to support the Wonsan-Mt. Kumgang International Tourist Zone.

2015-3-26 (Google Earth)

Wonsan-Airport-2015-3-26

2015-2-10 (Google Earth)

Wonsan-Airport-2015-2-10

2014-12-25 (Google Earth)

Wonsan-Airport-2014-12-25

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Wonsan City seeing new construction area

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

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Pictured above (Google Earth): Site of the new Kalma Street construction site in Wonsan

According to KCNA (2015-5-20):

Ground-breaking Ceremony of Construction in Wonsan Area Held

Wonsan, May 20 (KCNA) — The Wonsan area will turn into a world-famous tourist city under the plan of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).

A ground-breaking ceremony took place in Kalma Street on Wednesday.

Present there were Vice-Premier Kim Yong Jin, officials concerned, builders and citizens of Wonsan.

A reporter and speakers said it was the lifetime wishes and behests of President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il to spruce up Wonsan area.

Marshal Kim Jong Un launched a big operation for building Wonsan area into a world famous tourist city, model of city formation, with noble intention to bring about a fresh turn in building a highly civilized socialist nation and dynamically aroused the whole party and country to the drive for doing so, they said.

They called for launching vigorous campaigns to carry out the behests of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and defending the party’s policies to powerfully demonstrate the might of Songun Korea in construction once again.

At the end of the ceremony they started projects including dwelling houses at the entrance of Kalma Street in Wonsan City.

Here is coverage by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

Wonsan: Start of Construction as ‘Global Tourist City’

The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) has reported that the groundbreaking ceremony for the Wonsan region took place on May 20, 2015 on Wonsan city’s Kalma Street.

The KCNA explained that “in accordance with the plans of the Korean Workers’ Party, the Wonsan region will be vigorously transformed into a global tourist city.” It also reported that Vice Premier of the Cabinet Kim Yong Jin was in attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony.

According to attendees at the ceremony, “The proper management of the Wonsan region is the will of Comrade Kim Il Sung and Comrade Kim Jong Il as well as their earnest dying injunction.” They also stressed that “Comrade Kim Jong Un is committed to bringing about a new change in the construction of a civilized socialist state and has unfolded a magnanimous strategy for managing the Wonsan region as a model of city development and global tourist cities.”

The KCNA reported that after the ceremony ended construction was started on private homes near the entrance to Kalma Street.

The ‘Wonsan-Kumgangsan Tourist Region’ was announced as a central-level Special Economic Zone (SEZ) on June 11, 2014 by way of an ordinance by the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA). It is part of the large-scale tourism belt that includes Wonsan district, the Masikryong Ski Resort, Ullim Falls, and the Sogwansa, Tongchon, and Kumgangsan districts.

The KCNA confirmed that the Wonsan development was the “will” and “dying injunction” of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, offering as evidence the fact that Kim Jong Il made the development of the Wonsan-Kumgangsan Tourist Region a recent priority of North Korea’s foreign economic sector.

In his 2015 New Year’s address, Kim Jong Un proclaimed to the people, “We need to multilaterally develop foreign economic relations and actively push forward the development of economic development zones like the Wonsan-Kumgangsan Tourist Region.” Also, in February 2015, the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee and Central Military Commission presented ‘joint slogans’ for the 70th year anniversary of the country’s liberation and the Party’s founding. Among those presented was the slogan, “Let’s actively push forward the economic development of the Wonsan-Kumgangsan Tourist Region!”

In May 2015, North Korea took the ‘18th Pyongyang Spring International Product Exhibition’ as an opportunity to hold an investment briefing session regarding the development of the Wonsan-Kumgangsan Tourist Region. Another on-site investment briefing at Kumgangsan is slated for six days beginning May 25, 2015.

Regarding the upcoming briefing, O Ung Gil, general manager of the Wonsan Area Development Corporation, said, “At the investment briefing, topics such as the favorability of the development zone (which has abundant tourist attractions), the legal environment, its current state, and the overall development plan will be revealed. […] All entrepreneurs and businessmen who have an interest in development in the region are welcome to attend.”

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KKG in Pyongyang

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

UPDATE 4 (2015-7-6): Stephan Haggard provides some additional information on Queensway Group/KKG.

UPDATE 3 (2015-6-24): Writing in the Financial Times, Tom Burgis links Queensway Group/KKG with Office 39.

UPDATE 2 (2015-5-1): J.R. Mailey has much more information on the Queensway Group/KKG.

UPDATE 1 (2014-7-17): Over at 38 North, J.R. Mailey has uncovered much more information on KKG (Queensway Group) and linked it with the Kaesong High Tech Industrial Park.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-9-11): “Kumgang Street/KKG Avenue Project in Pyongyang”: Aggressive construction and re-development projects have taken place on Pyongyang’s Mansudae Street over the last few years as part of the DPRK’s “Strong and Prosperous Nation (강성대국)” policies. See Mansudae renovation no. 1 here and Mansudae renovation no. 2 here.

Residential construction projects, however, have been limited neither to Mansudae Street (See here, here, here, here, hereherehere, here) nor to Pyongyang. In the interest of [my] time, I will offer only the most recent example: There are reports of an ambitions real-estate project in Chongjin, though satellite imagery in the area is too old to confirm the project or evaluate its size/scope.

However, a recent tourist photo taken in Pyongyang near the Tongil Market reveals yet another ambitious plan for residential development in Rakrang-guyok (락랑구역). It is unclear how long this project has been planned or if/why it appears to be on hold. Here is the photo of the billboard:

Click here to see a larger version of this photo on flickr.

According to the billboard, this project bears the name “Kumgang Street” in Korean (금강거리) and “KKG Avenue” in English. The operation appears to be run by 금강경제개발총회사 (The Kumgang Economic Development Corporation). A quick Google search for “금강경제개발총회사” yields pleanty of results, but all of them are in Korean–meaning it will be excruciatingly painful for me to do any research on this organization. If you can determine anything else about this project, please let me know.

From what I can tell, this effort is set to take place just north of the Tongil Market (conspicuously absent from the billboard, though enhanced with a wide avenue and bridge to Yanggak Island). Here is the approximate location as seen on Google Earth (I have added the position of the proposed Yanggak Bridge to make the comparison easier):

According to the billboard, the Mullet Soup Restaurant on the bank of the Taedong River will be part of the finished project.  The remainder of the land looks like it has been cleared and prepared for the development project, although historical imagery on Google Earth indicates that this land has been largely unused for decades. The image below dates from 2000-6-12:

 According to “The Skyscraper Center” the tallest building(s) in the new development will be 274m/899 feet.

I have been able to find out little more about this project. Again, if you can find additional information, please let me know.

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New Satellite Control Center

Monday, May 4th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-7-10): New Google Earth satellite imagery (2015-5-20) shows the completed Satellite Control Center:

 Satellite-Control-Center-2015-5-20

ORIGINAL POST (2015-5-4): On May 4, 2015, Rodong Sinmun reported that Kim Jong-un visited the “Newly-built General Satellite Control Centre”.

Imagery release on KCTV helped me identify the facility on commercial satellite imagery:

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Side-view

GE-Satellite-Control-Center

This is one of several large construction projects in Pyongyang that I have had my eye on for some time (I thought it was a new theater or stadium).

The new satellite control center is located in the Pothonggang District of Pyongyang. The size of the mission control room is approximately 570 square meters. Other facilities in the building, according to the DPRK media, include a revolutionary history room, auxiliary display and control room, and optical observation room, E-library, lounge, conference room, offices, dining room and bedrooms.

Based on commercial satellite imagery, construction began sometime between 2014-4-13 and 2014-7-3, meaning that if completed, construction took nearly one year.

Pothonggang-control-center-before

 Pothonggang-control-center-after

This new control center may also be the administrative home of the National Aerospace Development Administration. Construction of the new satellite control center began shortly after NADA was publicly announced last year.

If completed, this new facility raises a question about the status of the older satellite control center in Ryongsong District at the Second Academy of Natural Sciences.

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DPRK real estate market: sustained boom, or bubble?

Saturday, April 11th, 2015

According to the Hankyoreh:

“They say there are apartments in Pyongyang selling for US$200,000.”

Jung Eun-yi, a research professor at Gyeongsang National University, was talking about how rapidly housing prices in North Korea have been rising. Jung had just returned from spending January and February in Dandong, China, where she had been tracking trends in the North Korean housing market. In July 2014, the highest price for an apartment in Pyongyang that heard about in Dandong had been US$100,000.

Needless to say, this doesn’t mean that an apartment worth US$100,000 had doubled in value to US$200,000 in the past six months. Nevertheless, the appearance of apartments worth US$200,000 indicates just how quickly Pyongyang apartments are increasing in quality, size, and value.

Jung is one of the foremost experts in South Korea on prices in the North Korean housing market. She received considerable interest from the media because of a paper that she presented at the World Conference on North Korean Studies at the end of Oct. 2014 in which she reported that some apartments in Pyongyang were selling for US$100,000.

In 2013, she had gained attention in the academic community by publishing a paper that included a detailed breakdown of housing prices in the North Korean city of Musan, North Hamgyong Province, down to the neighborhood.

Based on the data collected during her most recent stay in Dandong, Jung argues that there are signs that the housing market in North Korea is turning into a real estate market, rather like South Korea. If a housing market is one in which houses are bought simply for the purpose of living in them, a real estate market is formed when people start to see the houses they buy both as a residence and an investment.

What enabled Jung to publish such a pioneering paper on the North Korean housing market is that she spends all four months of her summer and winter vacations each year in Dandong, where she researches trends in the North Korean housing market.

Jung says that there are several reasons why she is interested in the North Korean housing market. The market offers hints at how the North Korean market economy is developing; it reflects the economic policies that the Kim Jong-un regime are adopting; and it provides a great deal of information about the appearance of a propertied class inside North Korea and about the growing wealth gap between the rich and poor.

What follows is a summary of the interview that Jung gave to the Hankyoreh on Mar. 30, organized by topic.

North Korea’s housing market: most profitable business area

Jung explains that one of the biggest recent changes in the North Korean housing market is the participation of North Korean trading companies. The reason, she says, is that building and selling houses has become even more lucrative than trade.

Why would that be? Jung explains that, while there is a lot of potential demand, there is a limited number of suppliers, creating a monopoly in the market. In other words, it’s easy to find buyers once you build a house.

But there’s just one catch. Before trade companies can jump into the housing market, they have to be working with someone who has connections in North Korea’s bureaucratic system.

As of now, housing transactions in North Korea are technically illegal. Given this situation, it is essential that a business have access to someone who can negotiate the bureaucracy so that it can provide the person buying the house with the permit that is legally required for them to move in.

According to Jung, no matter how much financial backing a developer may have, “they will fail without a partner who can cut through all the red tape.”

The growth of the house-buying class

Jung says that the price of housing in North Korea is linked to rice and US dollars (the exchange rate). When calculations are made in rice, the preferred unit is the ton.

The growth in a housing market that involves the movement of such huge amounts of rice and dollars implies that an increasing number of people in North Korea have that much purchasing ability.

The increasing level of purchasing power, or disposable income, can also be verified in the fact that houses in North Korea are improving in quality every day.

The concept of the “front room” was introduced in some ritzier North Korean houses back in the 1990s. Front room means a living room that includes a kitchen with a sink, rather than the traditional coal-burning kitchen. But even since then, houses have been becoming more elaborate, some using high-quality materials from China.

However, the very increase in the number of people with property – the consumers of these new houses – also implies that the gap between the rich and the poor is widening. Behind every house that is sold is a family whose financial destitution leaves them no choice but to sell the house in which they had been living. In this way, the growth of the housing market in North Korea offers another glimpse at the growing wealth disparity there.

Predictions for the North Korean housing market 

Jung expects that the North Korean real estate market will continue to expand for a significant period of time. Just as in South Korea, there was also an explosion in demand for houses in North Korea starting in the early 1980s because of the baby boomers, the generation of those born around 1957.

However, the demand in North Korea was suppressed by the “arduous march,” Jung believes. During this famine in the mid-1990s, when the severe shortage of food caused people to starve to death, the massive flight of people out of the country actually led to an increase in the number of vacant houses around North Korea’s border with China.

But with the subsequent development of private markets and the appearance of people with money to spend in the 2000s, these vacant residences were the first to be sold at cut-rate prices. This signaled the beginning of growth in the housing market.

Housing prices in North Korea increased rapidly then faltered during the currency reform in 2009, when the Kim Jong-il regime attempted to put limits on these markets. But from 2011 to 2014, after the North Korean government started to tolerate the markets again, housing prices soared once more.

Jung believes that the growth trend in North Korean housing prices will continue for the time being. The reason is that demand for housing both among baby boomers and among new members of the propertied class is likely to continue.

The North Korean housing market and Kim Jong-un’s economic reforms

Jung explains that the regime of Kim Jong-un is taking steps toward normalizing the housing market. Presumably, the regime has concluded that the official economy of the country is suffering major losses because the housing market is outside of the system.

As one example, Jung cites housing deals between private citizens in the 1990s. While the volume of transactions greatly increased during this period, the failure to solve the issue of legal collateral resulted in unending disputes about these transactions.

There was also widespread corruption connected with them. Jung says that sometimes the housing allocation department of the urban management bureau of the people’s committee – which is in charge of issuing residential licenses – would confiscate houses that had been illegally bought by low-ranking officials and then conduct business with those houses themselves. Since the housing market did not go beyond individuals making money, it did not benefit government finances.

Jung believes that the Kim Jong-un regime was trying to stamp out this kind of corruption when it established housing delegation offices in 2013. These offices are public organizations whose purpose is to take money from public citizens and to build them a new house. The existence of this organization is another example that both central planning and market forces are at work in the North Korean economy today.

Jung sees this as being part of efforts to institutionalize market mechanisms. “This is evidence that the Kim Jong-un regime is going beyond the military-first policy known as Songun that was instituted by Kim’s father and moving down the path toward socialist capitalism,” she said.

Housing market: A market economy learning center

According to Jung, the housing market is turning into a “learning center” writ large for the market economy – not just for the Kim regime, but for the North Korean public. Most crucially, housing prices in North Korea are already being decided based on a variety of factors, including access to transportation, markets, nearby facilities, and even the number of floors. As an example, Jung mentioned the price of apartments in Musan, a county in North Hamgyong Province. The most expensive apartments on the market there are seven-story buildings for “people of national merit.” But the most expensive, she said, are not the seven-story blocks, but the five-story ones. The smaller buildings go for more because they don’t have elevators, which makes them better for moving firewood. One- to two-story buildings are less popular because they are seen as similar to South Korea’s, Jung added. Even in North Korea, a number of different variables go into shaping housing market prices.

Chinese presence in the North Korean real estate market 

Jung also noted that some Chinese people have begun branching into the North Korean real estate market. Chinese residents of North Korea who were interviewed in Dandong indicated that more and more Chinese have begun investing after seeing the real estate. North Korea has not yet made its housing fully open to foreigners, but those who invest in North Korea are reportedly allowed to buy housing for temporary residence. It’s a sign that regulations on foreign activities are being relaxed. As a result, an increasing number of Chinese people are investing in needed areas such as toll processing and solar energy development in Pyongyang and other places – and acquiring housing and land in the process. The strategy is twofold: immediate gains, along with more long-term profits from the land.

The real estate housewives of North Korea? 

“It hasn’t reached that point yet, but the signs are there.” According to Jung, relatively rigid enforcement of the one-family, one-home rule in North Korea means the country has yet to develop a visible community of “housewife speculators” buying and selling homes for profit. But there have been cases of people buying homes under their mother’s name, or investing when a house is still incomplete and cheaper before turning around and selling at a higher price when it is finished, she added. Both are similar to the kinds of behaviors seen among South Korea’s housewife speculators. As these activities increase, Jung notes, the idea of the home as a place of residence only is giving way to the idea of real estate as an investment – even in North Korea.

The increasingly market-oriented nature of the North Korean housing market, and the Kim Jong-un regime’s attempts to incorporate the changes into its system, led Jung to predict that the shift toward market economy principles will only grow and intensify going ahead. The question now is whether this market-oriented real estate market will lead North Korea to reprise the disastrous experience of ’70s-era Gangnam as the economy grows – or whether the result will be something completely different.

Read the full story here:
North Korean real estate market: sustained boom, or bubble?
Hankyoreh
Kim Bo-geun
2015-4-11

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Sci-Tech Complex on Ssuk Islet, Pyongyang

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

UPDATE 9 (2015-10-28): KCNA reveals new photos of the completed Sci-Tech Complex:

 Sci-Tech-2015-10-28-KCNA

Click image to see larger version.

You can read more here.

UPDATE 8 (2015-8-12): KCNA reports a few more details on the functions/information of the complex:

Preparations for Running Sci-Tech Complex in DPRK
Pyongyang, August 12, 2015 17:23 KST (KCNA) — The Central Information Agency for Science and Technology in the DPRK has pushed ahead with the preparations for running the Sci-Tech Complex, which is now under construction in Pyongyang.

The Agency concentrated its efforts on developing various kinds of service programs on a higher level. The programs include information retrieval system, database management system, print system and translation system.

It is also conducting at the final stage the work to synthesize and systematize a large amount of data.

Meanwhile, more than 1 000 multimedia pieces and scores of diagrams were produced.

UPDATE 7 (2015-7-10): New Google Earth imagery of the construction site reveals additional details of the project:

 Sci-Tec-Instutite-2015-5-20

UPDATE 6 (2015-6-25): Google has uploaded a new image of the Sci-Tech Complex. The image is dated 2015-4-28. You can now see the distinctive “atom” shape the building will achieve:

 Sci-tech-complex-2015-4-28

UPDATE 5 (2015-4-4): The Pyongyang Times has published a new article on the Sci-Tech Complex:

Sci-tech complex construction goes full steam ahead

A sci-tech complex is being built on Ssuk Islet in the Taedong River meandering through the middle of Pyongyang.

The complex is almost equal to the Grand People’s Study House in both total area and height.

The Grand People’s Study House is a Korean-style building with an area of 100 000 square metres. It was completed in 1982 in a year and nine months after its groundbreaking.

It contributed greatly to making the whole society intellectual and developing the country’s science and technology.

The new centre is a palace of learning for all people as well as scientists and technicians. It is intended for making all people well-versed in science and technology. It will also serve as a centre for disseminating cutting-edge science and tech-nology across the country.

Latest architectural technologies are employed intensively to the construction.

A green building, the exterior is designed in the form of a large atomic structure symbolic of the world of science to make viewers feel at a glance that it is an information centre of science and technology.

Several flower-patterned outdoor exhibition grounds, study places, a fountain park and a science and technology tower will be built around the main building.

In the central hall that reaches up to the fourth floor will be installed a model of a carrier rocket of artificial earth satellite.

On every floor will be arranged e-reading rooms for professionals, where they can have access to any information in various fields, as befits a general e-library.

The layout includes sectoral sci-tech exhibition halls, online lecture room, room for the show of science film, local and foreign technological information exchange room for joint research and exchange and hall for presentations of scientific and technological achievements and workshops.

Also arranged in the complex will be children’s dream hall for helping them acquire scientific principles and cultivate a web of fantasy, basic knowledge application hall for schoolchildren and halls showing the history of the development of science and technology in the country.

It will be furnished with facilities to transmit information needed for sci-tech information rooms throughout the country.

A several-kilometre-long embankment will be built around the island to prevent flood water. Road extending more than four kilometres will be laid in the compound and the bridge linking the island to Chungsong Bridge will be rebuilt into a new three-way bridge branching into the island.

A trolley bus line is to be built, forming a loop line from Yokjon Street, via Mirae Scientists Street and Chungsong Bridge, to the island.

Tens of thousands of tall trees and flowering shrubs are planned to be planted on the island to landscape the surroundings of the complex and new species of turf over a large area will add to the beautiful scenery of the island.

It is a gigantic construction project with a huge workload.

Soldier builders engaged in the construction are now stepping up the project as scheduled to create a new Pyongyang spirit and Pyongyang speed in the “all-at-once” spirit of the Korean People’s Army of transforming mountains and rivers not in a decade but in a year.

After finishing the excavation for the foundations, the most difficult task, in the biting cold of midwinter they are pushing ahead with the concrete work for the foundations underground and the first floor.

The construction of a modern 500-capacity tower hotel, bridge leading to the island and the trolley bus line is being pushed in a three-dimensional way.

The builders in charge of the bridge are pushing forward with the project as planned by applying advanced construction methods to the building of cofferdam and excavation for the foundations of piers.

Civil servants cleared the site over several thousand square metres and planted over 3 000 trees and flowering shrubs in 15 species.

UPDATE 4 (2015-3-20): According to Radio Free Asia:

North Korea is building a science and technology facility on an unpopulated island in the capital Pyongyang to store digital information obtained in part by hacking foreign websites to help scientists and other professionals access outside know-how, sources from the country said.

“North Korea is building Science and Technology Hall, a massive information and communication service center for scientists, technicians and teachers who can’t access the internet,” someone who works for an educational institution told RFA’s Korean Service.

“If Science and Technology Hall is completed, they can see digital materials from all parts of the world such as international technical development trends and [information about] military, telecommunications and satellites,” the source said.

The facility, which is being built on Pyongyang’s Ssuk Island, will disseminate information to scientists and technicians via the country’s intranet, he said.

It will be connected to major universities in Pyongyang as well as research centers and laboratories in leading companies through a dedicated line, he said.

Construction has already started on the facility, which will collect and organize both domestic and global data, on Ssuk Island,” the Chosun Shinbo, the journal of the Chongryon (General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan), which represents the position of the North Korean regime, reported in January.

UPDATE 3 (2015-2-27):  Kim Jong-un has made a second visit to Ssuk Islet to guide construction of the “Sci-Tech Complex”.

sci-tech-overview

According to Rodong Sinmun:

The complex should serve as a seat of learning where not only scientists and technicians but also people from all walks of life can have an ample opportunity of learning and a center for disseminating latest science and technology throughout the country, he said, calling for constructing it to be impeccable in terms of architectural beauty and practical use.

He gave an instruction to build a hotel capable of accommodating 500 people which can match well its surrounding environment so that it may provide best convenience to visitors.

He called for pushing ahead with the construction of the complex and preparations for its operation simultaneously.He underscored the need to meticulously organize the work for building a strong latest science and technology database, supplying equipment and apparatuses necessary for e-library service at the highest level, establishing a network between the complex and scientific and technological knowledge dissemination rooms across the country and assigning scientists, experts and service workers.

He underlined the need to successfully undertake the embankment project on Ssuk Islet where the complex is located and effectively arrange environment around it including afforestation and greening.

He praised commanding officers and soldiers of KPA Unit 963 for contriving and introducing an innovative construction method and pushing ahead with the project in a bold way.

He said every sector and unit should render sincere material and moral assistance to the construction of the complex so that it may be pushed forward as a project involving the entire Party, the whole country and all people.

He was so kind as to solve all problems arising in the construction on the spot.

That last sentence I found particularly humorous.

UPDATE 2 (2015-2-1): The “scientific and technological study center” seems to have been re-designed over the last few months. Although construction on the old design had begun, the shape of the facility seems to have changed (was this a consequence of Kim Jong-un’s visit to the facility last year?):

Ssuk-islet-center-2014-7-3

Ssuk-islet-center-2014-9-21

Ssuk-islet-center-2014-10-26

Ssuk-islet-center-2015-1-14

(Image Dates: 2014-7-3, 2014-9-21, 2014-10-26, 2015-1-14)

UPDATE 1 (2015-1-9): According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

The Choson Sinbo, pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan, reported on January 10, 2015 that a “Science and Technology Hall” is under construction on the Ssuk Islet on Pyongyang’s Taedong River. The hall is reported to serve as a “multi-functional technological service base which will conserve and maintain digitalized data of science and technological achievements made by mankind, and facilitate information sharing and exchanges through a network system.”

The newspaper stated, “The Republic with the national strategy to achieve economic revitalization through science and technology is emphasizing the need for informatization of educational materials in order to foster professionals in science and technological sector.” In also stressed, “In the Kim Jong Un Era, this project is under promotion to advance to the next level.”

Last June, Kim Jong Un visited the Ssuk Islet to provide field guidance for the “Ssuk Islet development project.” During the visit, Kim proclaimed, “The demand for scientific and technological knowledge sharing is increasing day by day,” and added, “Our Party [Workers’ Party of Korea] has decided to develop Science and Technology Hall in the Ssuk Islet to address the demands of the people.” According to the newspaper, the islet, which is situated at the gateway to Pyongyang, will be equipped with indoor and outdoor exhibition space and will “transform the scenery of the Taedong River.”

Last year, the faculty residence for the Kim Chaek University of Technology was completed (two, 46-story apartment buildings) on the riverside of the Taedong River. This high-rise, which looks afloat on the Taedong River, will be at the center of the currently-under-construction “Mirae [Future] Scientists Street.” This street will house various residential and public service buildings.

In particular, the newspaper claimed, “The economic trials suffered from the end of the 20th century with the blockade and sanctions from our adversaries has impeded the advancement of the information sector. Hence, the informatization of educational resources is one of the fastest measures to ensure the best conditions and environment for education.” It conveyed the Science and Technology Hall development in the Ssuk Islet will contribute to the efforts toward the “informatization of educational resources.”

It further elaborated, “The most pragmatic approach to meet the demand for knowledge dissemination is not to distribute compulsory literatures, teaching materials, and experimental equipment for every field and units which will require tremendous effort in terms of funds, materials and time.” Instead, the article stipulated that the more rational choice would be to “create a state-level system that can provide necessary information in digitalized data and share that information to the people.”

This can be interpreted as one of North Korea’s efforts to revitalize the economy through science and technology.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-6-3):

Sci-tech-complex-2014-1-27

Sci-tech-complex-2014-4-13

Imagery on Google Earth indicates the construction work on Ssuk Islet in Pyongyang began between 2014-1-27 (Top) and 2014-4-13 (Bottom)

On June 2, 2014, Rodong Sinmun/KCNA announced that Kim Jong-un visited Ssuk Islet in Pyongyang and “called for turning the islet associated with the feats of President Kim Il Sung into the one for scientific and technological study center.”

As shown in the satellite images above, construction on the new center had begun before Kim Jong-un made his visit.

KCNA goes on to describe aspects of the new center:

Saying that demand for the dissemination of science and technology is increasing as the day goes by, Kim Jong Un noted that the Party determined to build a modern scientific and technological study center on the islet to meet the requirements of the people.

The center to be built on the islet will function not only as a comprehensive data base for scientific and technological achievements made by mankind but also as a multi-purpose scientific and technological service center, which makes it possible to use all data and share and exchange information through a network any time, he noted.

He instructed officials to build the center at the highest level in the aspects of architectural beauty, formative art and architectural contents so that it may appear a building of national treasure and fashionable and world-class one.

Feasting his eyes on both banks of the River Taedong, he said the site was a very good place and the center to be built on the islet would serve as another springboard from which the country would surpass the world’s level. He added he felt pleased to foresee the center.

Noting that the scientific and technological study center to be built on the islet is another gift of the WPK for the people, he specified measures for designing, construction and the supply of building materials, etc.

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