The North Korean city of Wŏnsan has everything it needs to be a successful resort town: a subtropical climate, stretches of elegant property on white sand beaches, desserts to eat, fish to catch, and–best of all–close proximity to military-grade weapons testing! In 2014, Kim Jong-un announced that despite a large military presence in and around Wonsan, he would be funneling over a billion dollars into the city to revitalize its tourism.
A five-star hotel, a golf course, and a department store are just some of the planned attractions with natural landmarks including the city’s beaches, mineral springs, and mud baths with an airport and ski resort already completed.
In preparation for the construction of the resort, Kim sent several officials to resorts in Spain for creative inspiration. Despite North Korea believing it is an ancient civilization with the greatest power in the world, Kim’s minions were reportedly impressed by the amusement park Terra Mitica’s Egyptian, Greek, and Roman style attractions and architecture.
Tourism remains an important source of revenue for the embattled nation, especially because it is not subject to the same UN sanctions and regulations as other industries. While Kim has launched close to 40 missiles among other weapons tests in the area in his bid to stun the world of nuclear weapons, he has also been attempting to curry favor with wealthy investors within North Korea.
Thae Yong Ho, the country’s former deputy ambassador, had a bold claim: “Kim is perceived by outsiders as all powerful, but North Korea’s free marketeers make him more vulnerable than he seems.”
While Kim needs military might to keep the rest of the world at bay, he still needs to keep the most influential people back home happy. Thae added, “Kim Jong Un knows that he can only control society and guarantee his long leadership if his role and influence in the economy is increased.” Another powerful group here are Chinese tourists, who reportedly made up the largest group of foreign visitors to the city.
Perhaps the best representation of Kim Jong Un’s discordant strategy for success occurred in 2014, when Kim ordered his most trusted and powerful admirals to put on their finest beach wear, and swim 10 kilometers around the bay to show off their physical fitness on national television.
After all, in North Korea, there is little separation between work and play, war and relaxation, or luxury and ruin.