North Korean leader Kim Jong-un issued a national appeal on Tuesday to speed up work on a “world class” ski resort, which is being built as rival South Korea prepares to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
Describing the Masik Pass resort in the northeast of the impoverished country as a “gigantic patriotic work”, Kim urged greater effort to complete the project - with 110 kilometres of multi-level ski runs, a hotel, heliport and cable cars.
The ruling Workers’ Party “remains unchanged in its resolution to build a world-class skiing ground withthis year”, the Swiss-educated Kim said in a message carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Tuesday.
The resort, which is being built by the military, will “provide the people and school youth and children with highly civilized and happy living conditions”, said the message addressed to service personnel and the country at large.
When Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, died in December 2011 he left a country in dire economic straits - the result of a “military first” policy that fed an ambitious missile and nuclear programme at the expense of a malnourished population.
Kim Jong-un has largely followed the same path, while paying lip service to a policy of joint military and economic development which has yet to show tangible progress on the economic side.
Despite a reported rise in staple food output, daily life for millions is an ongoing struggle with under-nutrition, according to a recent World Food Programme report.
In February, the UN resident coordinator in North Korea, Desiree Jongsma, said two-thirds of its 24 million population were chronically food insecure and nearly 28 per cent of children under five were stunted from malnutrition.
Kim had paid a publicised “work guidance” visit to the Masik Pass resort last week and observers have offered a number of theories for why the resort has been made such a priority.
Some speculate that the North might consider making a late bid to co-host some events of the 2018 Winter Olympics, which will take place in the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang.
At the same time, it might be a genuine bid to boost tourism which Pyongyang increasingly sees as a relatively risk-free way of earning much-needed foreign currency.