Pyongyang Post-Party Anniversary: Shifts in Construction Priorities

Despite an impressive 200-day campaign to build the multi-towered Pyongyang General Hospital in advance of the 75th anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), recent commercial satellite imagery of Pyongyang indicates a significant slowdown in efforts to complete the complex and its peripheral construction projects. While the deadline to open the hospital has passed without any evidence of doing so, the urgency once shown to this project appears to have been diffused by Kim Jong Un’s announcement of a new 80-day campaign, an intensive effort to rehabilitate towns affected by flooding and increase production in mines, factories and agriculture. This has likely diverted the bulk of construction workers away from the hospital for the foreseeable future. Whether efforts will shift back to finishing the hospital after the 80-day campaign concludes is largely unclear.

75th Anniversary of the WPK Celebrations

Since January, Kim Jong Un has been promoting the construction of a major new hospital to present as a gift to the people on this milestone party anniversary. Construction moved at a remarkable pace over the past seven months, to transform a city park into a multi-towered complex taking up approximately a little over 61,000 square meters. Despite significant progress, it seemed doubtful to outside observers that the stated goal of opening by October 10 would be possible. North Korean state media reports in the weeks leading up to the anniversary celebrated the speed of construction, and preparations to recruit hospital staff and workers but none featured pictures of the hospital’s interior progress. Nonetheless, the hospital was featured in the anniversary events in a variety of ways, like on celebratory postage stamps, in an animated light show, and as a float during the parade featuring a miniature flying helicopter.

Figure 1. The Pyongyang General Hospital float during North Korea’s Public Procession, along with the Yangdok Hot Springs Resort, October 10, 2020.

It should be noted, however, despite all the fanfare about the hospital during anniversary events, Kim Jong Un did not conduct a site visit either on or around the anniversary deadline to comment on its status.

Hospital Progress

Imagery from October 22 provides perhaps some rationale for why there was no state media coverage of the present-day hospital. Although the exterior of the hospital appears to be complete, additional work is still needed. The final paving of the front and rear entrances, for instance, has not yet significantly started, although there are vehicles on site, including a cargo/dump truck, a semi-tractor trailer, and possibly two truck-mounted cranes or vehicles, which are needed for this concrete work. Canopies have been installed over the entrance ways to the underground parking or service areas near the rear entrance, however, the additional construction started on the northern and southern edges of the hospital grounds has not changed much since October 6.

Figure 2. Overview of the Pyongyang General Hospital, October 22, 2020.

Satellite image © 2020 Maxar Technologies. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].

Post-Anniversary Priorities

Now that the October 10 deadline has passed, North Korea’s state media has been noticeably silent about the hospital. There was a brief mention of the hospital on October 11, when KCNA praised the newfound architectural aesthetic of the country, which included the Pyongyang General Hospital’s design, although without any indication of the hospital’s project status. On October 14, an 80-day campaign was launched with a focus on disaster recovery construction, along with increased production in factories, mines and agriculture. For this new campaign, KPA units, construction brigades and volunteers have been sent out to provinces hit the hardest by the August and September typhoons to build new housing and infrastructure.

With manpower and resources dispersed throughout the country and a dizzying focus from state media on factory outputs, housing completion and power station construction, the focus on large-scale, high-profile projects appears to be gone, at least for now. While the country’s priorities have shifted in the near term, it is unclear where finishing the hospital now fits into Kim Jong Un’s plans. After the 80-day campaign, will there be a renewed focus on the hospital, or will a new large-scale project steal focus once again?

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