The communist government of North Korea has failed to complete the Pyongyang General Hospital — a flagship project announced by dictator Kim Jong-un last year — because it ran out of building materials, Radio Free Asia (RFA) revealed Tuesday.
Kim announced the construction of a state-of-the-art healthcare facility in the capital in March 2020, at the height of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic in that part of the world, in a speech titled, “Let Us Build the Pyongyang General Hospital in an Excellent Way, Greeting the 75th Founding Anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.” At the time, North Korean authorities claimed they had not identified a single case of Chinese coronavirus nationwide, despite the nation sharing borders with China, Russia, and South Korea, all of which have endured significant outbreaks. North Korean authorities insisted to this day that they have not seen a single case of coronavirus within their borders.
The call for rapidly constructing a hospital indicated to outsiders, however, that North Korea was indeed undergoing a crisis necessitating significant investments in health care.
RFA reported Tuesday, citing sources on the ground, that China enforcing sanctions against North Korea and sealing the mutual border in response to the coronavirus pandemic has made it extremely difficult for the country to procure the materials to complete the interior of the building and acquire the medical supplies to make it functional.
“Though exterior work on the Pyongyang General Hospital is complete, the project was supposed to have been ready by the Oct. 10 75th anniversary of the 1945 founding of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party,” RFA reported, “but builders have not been able to install elevators or finishing hospital’s interiors without building materials and medical equipment from China.”
RFA claimed that no work had been done on the site in months.
The organization’s anonymous source detailed, “the interior work has not been started at all. Electric wiring, lighting, marble, other interior materials and medical equipment should have been imported from China, but they have not been brought in due to the coronavirus.”
Pyongyang also reportedly has no way of purchasing elevators, key for moving patients around.
The failure to complete the Pyongyang General Hospital, in addition to potentially exacerbating a health crisis that North Korea vehemently denies is happening, is particularly embarrassing for Kim Jong-un in light of the fact that his order to build it was in part an admission that North Korea had failed to provide proper services to its citizens. In announcing the project in March, Kim described himself and his ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) as “miserably self-critical” due to the fact that “there is no perfect and modern medical service establishment even in the capital city.”
“Comrades — The Pyongyang General Hospital … will turn into a structure that demonstrates, as they are, the spirit of our country advancing vigorously towards the better future,” Kim said, “by frustrating cheerfully the mean sanctions and blockade of the hostile forces and the unchangeable situation of our revolution.”
By July, North Korean state media revealed some signs that the project was not progressing as rapidly as Kim had hoped. The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim visited the construction site that month and left dejected, calling Party bureaucrats “careless” and ordering their immediate replacement with more competent officials.
“After hearing a detailed report on the overall situation of the construction from the construction coordination commission on the spot, he pointed out serious problems in economic organization for the construction,” KCNA said of Kim. “He said that the construction coordination commission is organizing economy in a careless manner with no budget for the construction properly set up, yet.”
Kim was reportedly particularly incensed by reports that communist officials were pressuring local civilians to donate money and resources to the construction of the hospital because they had mismanaged the funds they were given and needed more. The report emphasized that Kim’s ire was at the bureaucrats, not the construction workers at the site, which aligns with current reports that the delay in completing the hospital is one of materials resources, not insufficient manpower.
Prior to its specific report on the Pyongyang General Hospital, RFA revealed last week that North Korea had essentially run out of construction material for all of its projects, leading diplomats to attempt to convince China to allow trade, including illicit trade, to restart across the Yalu River border.
“They need to import raw materials, so they want to slowly restore the Sino-Korean trade system, which was suspended due to the coronavirus,” an unnamed source in China told the outlet, saying that usual North Korean customers had begun calling with increased desperation and hoping for access to materials.
“They said the framing of several apartment buildings has already been completed, but they cannot finish the interiors because they need things like doors, window frames, bathtubs and toilets,” the source said, echoing the report on the Pyongyang General Hospital. “They said they urgently need these finishing materials for construction.”
Adding to North Korea’s woes, much of its economic plan for 2020, developed the year before, revolved around attracting Chinese tourism by building resorts and other facilities to attract travelers. In the aftermath of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, tourism around the world has cratered as an industry.