Tens of thousands of young North Koreans have been forced to join work brigades to build a huge resort complex in Wonsan, with leader Kim Jong-un harboring ambitions of transforming the port city into a source of foreign currency, British paper the Times reported Sunday.
Located on the southeastern coast of North Korea, the Wonsan region has been the focus of the North Korean regime’s tourism push, with an aim to complete the project by October 2020.
After a rare trip by Western media, the Times reported that young North Korean workers are “slaving around the clock to finish their leader’s pet project,” and “a resort complex of hotels, funfairs, boardwalks and water parks designed to lure in one million tourists a year is taking shape.”
The opening of the Wonsan-Kalma tourist zone was initially planned for April 15 this year -- the birthday of Kim’s grandfather and founder of North Korea, Kim Il-sung -- but the schedule was pushed back to Oct. 10, the foundation anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, then delayed again till next year.
At least 170 buildings are reportedly constructed at the tourist resort zone but the regime lacks foreign currency to produce or import interior installations to fill the space due to international sanctions imposed on the country.
The North Korean leader has repeatedly reaffirmed the regime’s commitment to bolstering its struggling economy through self-reliance. Tourism -- not banned under UN sanctions -- is one of the few legitimate options he has to generate revenue.
After a summit with Kim in Singapore last year, US President Donald Trump said North Korean beaches could present a new business opportunity.
“They have great beaches. You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean. I said, ‘Boy look at that view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo?” he told reporters.
According to the China National Tourism Administration, some 1.2 million Chinese tourists visited the North in 2018.