A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Peter Makowsky
Kim Jong Un’s desire to transform the Wonsan region into a world-class, summer tourist destination is rapidly approaching reality, as the final phase of construction nears. Located on the southeastern coast of North Korea, the resort, which includes beachfront hotels, conference centers, mineral springs and entertainment venues such as theaters, water parks and golf, is designed to lure international vacationers to bring in much-needed currency and to showcase a progressive North Korea.
Rapid construction has been seen throughout 2018 and 2019 as the resort’s evolving design and layout are reaching their final phase. Most buildings are externally complete, albeit, a couple of new projects have appeared since May 2019, and the grounds and gardens throughout the resort are near ready for the arrival of guests. The project was scheduled to be finished by October 2019, however, during his April 2019 visit, Kim Jong Un extended that deadline to April 2020, ostensibly to coincide with the “Day of the Sun,” Kim Il Sung’s birthday. While this was the official explanation, the more likely cause of the delay is Kim’s continued editing of the resort’s master plan, where he has directed the addition of new hotels and venues of unique design and grandeur, and surfacing reports that sanctioned items, necessary to complete the interiors of many of the buildings and venues, are in short supply.
Figure 1. Overview of Wonsan’s Beach Resort, September 23, 2019.
Commercial satellite imagery from September 23, 2019, revealed remarkable construction progress since April. All of the tower hotels along the beach, reported as being in their final stages of construction in April, now appear to be either complete or nearly complete on their exterior, with finishing work in progress on their roofs or surrounding grounds.
In the north beach area, a construction crane still flanks the large, themed, island hotel, although the structure appears to be externally complete, and work has begun on the grounds of the faux island. Across the man-made lake, a large, arched-roof structure of unique design, has been added to the resort building occupying the northwest corner of the north beach area since April. And to the north, the construction on the grandstands for the nearby track and field stadium is completed, although the field still needs sodding and the track’s surface needs to be laid. Throughout the north section of the beach resort, the addition of sod and shrubs being added is evident, and walkways are being paved, possibly with bricks, as those now surfaced are red in color. The ocean promenade also looks finished, as gardens and grass have been added to the uniquely designed sidewalk patterns.
Figure 2. Overview of the north beach area, September 23, 2019.
The central beach area has been similarly completed. There were five high-rise buildings observed in their late stages of construction in May 2019. On September 23, all but one appeared to be externally complete or near complete, lacking only the addition of final roofing materials, possibly some windows and gardening and/or the laying of sidewalks around their base. Additional floors are still being added to one of the buildings, which appears to be the tallest of the structures. Not observed in May, construction for special venue building has begun in the park located between the resort hotel area and the airfield. While it’s too early to confirm its function, the size and shape of its foundation suggest a large amphitheater or arena.
Figure 3. Overview of the central beach area, September 23, 2019.
Figure 4. Central beach area with new special venue construction visible.
Construction in the south beach area also continues on pace. Of the five high-rise buildings observed in their late phases of construction in May, all appear externally complete or nearly complete. And like the north and central beach areas, work on the grounds surrounding these facilities was observed. Detail work, such as the addition of outdoor swimming pools, is evident.
Figure 5. Overview of south beach area, September 23, 2019.
The marina appears near ready for tourists, as the quay paving, reported in May, is complete, and roofing of the marina support building has also been finished. However, since May, construction has begun on a probable storage building, located directly behind the marina support building.
Figure 6. Overview of marina at northern part on peninsula, September 23, 2019.
Not previously reported is the addition of a ferry port under construction to the northwest end of the Wonsan-Kalma peninsula. It was first observed under construction on July 30, 2018, when the beginnings of a man-made island were underway. Subsequent images of January 23 and September 23, 2019, show the island completed with only terminal structures to be added. A covered walkway connecting the island to the mainland has been observed in various stages of construction during this period. The ferry port will likely service both the Wonsan-Kalma Airfield and beach resort facilities.
Figure 7. Overview of construction progress at probable ferry port.