Kim Jong Il has made three public appearances thus far this year, the first to the Pukjung Machine Complex, the second to the September General Iron Enterprise and the third to the Rakwon Machine Complex. Obviously January is the month of heavy industry. (To track Kim Jong Il’s public appearances, see Where Is Kim Jong Il)
But it is also notable that Kim’s first three visits are to North Phyongan Province, location of Sinuiju and Ryongchon . It is also home to heavy industry, and a frequent stop of Kim’s industrial tours.
Kim visited the Rakwon Machine Complex in Sinuiju during a province-wide industrial sector tour in January 2000, and paid other guidance visits to the site in October 2002 and May 2004. He visited the Pukjung Machine Complex in May 2000 and again in December 2001 during a field guidance tour of industrial sites in the province, particularly around Sinuiju.
Kim’s choice of initial locations to visit suggests a few things. First, the push for economic strengthening is alive and well, and obviously seen in the attempt to inspire heavy industry. Second, the focus on North Phyongan continues. This is the area, right near the Chinese border and with its own access to the sea, that Kim hopes to be the heartland of the new industrial North Korea.
It was Sinuiju that was chosen as the now defunct special economic zone/special administrative region, and the city has long been eyed by Pyongyang as the preferable location for foreign investment, even if it has begrudgingly accepted Kaesong for the major inter-Korean industrial facilities.
But there is one more thing – the potential that Kim was in China or meeting with Chinese officials secretly during the first days of the month. From December 31 through January 11, Kim is nowhere to be found. It is not a long disappearance, and Kim has in the past waited nearly two weeks to show his face, but the Dear Leader has been known to bop over to China unannounced from time to time.
Just as an addendum, over the past few years, Kim’s first month or so of public visits have varied widely.
1998 – Power production in Jagang Province, many military visits
1999 – Power production and land reclamation, military visits
2000 – Land rezoning and industry in North Phyongan
2001 – Trip to China, light and heavy industry and power in North Phyongan
2002 – Locomotive factory, many military visits
2003 – Land realignment in South Phyongan, many military visits
2004 – Military
2005 – Heavy industry