A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Peter Makowsky and Jenny Town
The Wonsan beach resort is one of Kim Jong Un’s signature projects, as part of an effort to transform the Wonsan region into a world-class tourist destination and the prime spot for summer vacationers. Located on the southeastern coast of North Korea, the resort area includes beachfront hotels, conference centers, mineral springs, and entertainment venues such as theaters, water parks and a golf course.
Rapid construction was seen throughout 2018 and continues this year, with new amenities and high-rises continually popping up. While the original deadline was to complete the resort by October 2019, Kim Jong Un extended that deadline during his April visit to April of 2020, coinciding with the “Day of the Sun” (Kim Il Sung’s birthday).
Construction Progress in 2019
Commercial satellite imagery from April 11, 2019, showed continued progress in the rapid construction started in 2018, with several of the hotels and other resort buildings externally complete. Additionally, a new projects were observed, including: 1) a long retaining wall and a new building at the pleasure craft marina; 2) a water park resort area that almost completely surrounds two small islands (the larger with a multi-story resort building erected on it) and 13 over-the-water cottages ring the westside of a man-made lake (reminiscent of Tahitian-style resort hotels); 3) additional buildings nestled in among the previously observed hotels and resort buildings, located in in the north, central and south areas of the beach resort; and 4) a new construction project in the south area, where apparent foundations for two large buildings are observed, in an area previously occupied by a pond. While the bulk of the buildings appeared to be externally complete, the status of their interiors could not be assessed.
Imagery from May 5, less than a month later, indicates dramatic and remarkable changes. The marina appears to be nearing completion. A long, narrow support building (possibly for storing boating supplies) is in the process of being roofed. A shed, located on the end of the shorter of two jetties is now complete, and it appears that preparations are being made to concrete-surface the main quay area.
Figure 1. The marina appears to be nearing completion by May, with a long retaining wall and a new building observed at the site.
Left: Image Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS. Right: Image © 2019 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]
A number of changes have taken place in the north beach area as well. In the faux-isle resort and recreation area, construction continues on the entrance area of the multi-story resort building and on the smaller isle and the grounds are being prepared for what appears to be a pitch-and-putt golf course. In addition, the grounds of the adjacent track and field stadium continue to be groomed, while construction has begun on the grandstands.
Figure 2. Construction ongoing at faux-isle resort and recreation area.
In the adjacent areas, where two building were observed in their early stages of construction, now stands two buildings over 20 stories high. Roofing is being completed on many of the buildings in the area, and the beach-walk gardens appear finished.
Figure 3. In the area adjacent to the marina, several buildings are under construction. Notably, two buildings that were in early stages of construction in mid-April now stand over 20 stories high.
In the central beach area, no fewer than six high-rise buildings have risen from the first- or second-floor level of construction to buildings towering with 12 or more stories, all in under four weeks. The remainder of the buildings in the area also appear to be reaching external completion with the majority of roofs now complete. The seaside gardens and boardwalks are continuing to be improved upon.
Figure 4. Fast-paced construction observed at high-rise buildings in the central beach area.
In the south beach area, four features stand out. The first is the erection of five high-rise buildings, three rising from the base floors to structures over 20 stories high. Of those, one boasts a truly unique architectural design comprised of offset floors. Construction on this building is not complete, and in fact, it appears additional stories will be added. The shoreline in this section of the beach resort now has nearly completed boardwalk gardens.
Figure 5. Advanced construction of structurally unique building at the south beach area.