Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
The construction of the Munsu Wading Pool in Pyongyang is part of Kim Jong Un’s (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) implemenation of his father’s, late leader Kim Jong Il, “behests” and part of KJI’s practice of indok politics. In February 2013 Kim Jong Un issued an instruction to the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces and Korean People’s Army [KPA] personnel to construct the water park. The MPAF and KPA staged a meeting, led by Gen. Kim Kyok Sik, on 7 February 2013 at which it was “stressed the need to ensure the quality in construction on the highest level under the motto of taking responsibility for the safety of projects and guaranteeing their absolute quality for all eternity by overcoming difficulties and hardships with the same spirit and mettle as were displayed in every work site for the country’s prosperity and the people’s happiness in the past.” The Munsu Wading Pool was listed a major project as part of “face-lifting” Pyongyang during a meeting of the Korean Workers’ Party [KWP] Political Bureau held in February.
During May 2013, Kim Jong Un visited the construction of the water park as part of a tour of construction projects in and around Pyongyang. DPRK Premier Pak Pong Ju also visited the construction in May. VMar Choe Ryong Hae, Director of the KPA General Political Department, has visited the water park’s construction twice with the first time being in February after ground was broken on the project, and in late June. The Munsu Wading Pool project has recently been included as part of the “Masikryo’ng Speed” campaign.
An official documentary film chronicling Kim Jong Un’s public activities in May 2013 provided greater detail about the Munsu Wading Pool’s design. A full-color poster of the design shows that the water park will have several swimming pools, a wave pool, a “lazy river” for inner tubing, an artificial waterfall, a tennis court, beach (sandy) volleyball court and other sports facilities. While the Munsu Wading Pool’s has a similar layout and design to other water parks elsewhere in the world, there are some areas of the park which will have distinct DPRK characteristics.
In planning the Munsu Wading Pool, the architects have borrowed at least one waterslide and several buildings found on the premises of the Kim family’s Ryo’ngso’ng (or Su’ngbo’p) residential compound in the Ryo’ngso’ng District in northern Pyongyang. The Ryo’ngso’ng compound is approximately 12.8 km (7.9 miles) north of central Pyongyang within the northern boundaries of the DPRK capital’s Inland Empire**. The compound includes one of Kim Jong Il’s private railway stations (including carriage repair and maintenance facilities), a C2 facility, a C4ISR UGF (call it a DPRK leadership panic room), a horse racing track, bridleways, a rifle range, numerous guest houses and private residences for DPRK elites and several large, luxurious homes inhabited by members of the Kim family.
DPRK architects modeled one of the waterslides planned for Munsu Wading Pool on a tube slide found at the outdoor pool of the Ryo’ngso’ng residential compound. The Ryo’ngso’ng residential compound has undergone several renovations since Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011. Satellite imagery showed that construction work was under way in April 2012, with a crew expanding one of the large houses, demolishing part of a residence for Personal Secretariat staff and a convoy of dump trucks hauling materials and debris from the compound. Satellite images taken later in 2012 (and available through several online mapping resources such as Google Maps/Earth) showed that one house used by Kim Jong Il had been completely demolished. Interestingly, the 2012 renovation of the Ryo’ngso’ng compound included the removal of the tube waterslide and the outdoor swimming pool. This raises the possibility that the water slide was disassembled and repurposed for the Munsu Wading Pool or another amusement park or alpamare in Pyongyang.
The Munsu Wading Pool’s design also envisions two pyramid-shaped structures located along the water park’s southern perimeter. The two pyramid-shaped structures at Munsu, topped by two silver square structures, are a smaller, less grand versions of two pyramids at the Ryo’ngso’ng compound. According to several accounts from people who visited or worked at the Ryo’ngso’ng compound, the two pyramids house bathing, spa and sauna facilities. It is possible that the twin pyramids in the Munsu park’s design will serve a similar purpose.
South and east of the twin pyramids at Munsu Wading Pool, the architects have planned several rectangular and circular structures. These buildings might include patios, restaurants or snack bars, locker rooms (dressing rooms), indoor recreation facilities and the water park’s administrative and technical offices. These buildings lining the water park’s southern perimeter have a highly similar design and are an expansion of the Ryo’ngso’ng compound’s main banquet hall and entertainment facilities.
There are a few implications (take aways, if you like) to the core leadership approving a design based on one of the Kim Family’s “special pavilions.” It fits an overall pattern, which began when Kim Jong Il was still alive in which food factories, shops and other aspects of the county’s so-called court economy are either publicized or DPRK citizens (a relative term when applied to Pyongyangites) are given access to them. It is highly likely that the designs for the Munsu Wading Pool came from a branch of the Paektusan Academy of Architecture.
**The Pyongyang Inland Empire is a term I coined in a conversation with a close colleague when discussing Kim Jong Un’s tendency to remain primarily in Pyongyang during most of 2012 and part of 2013. It refers to sections of Pyongyang running from the northern outskirts of the city (south of the Pyongyang Airport) south to the area around Ku’msusan Palace then through the city centre (KIS Square, central party complex) and west into the Mangyo’ngdae District with parts of it sitting east on either side of the Taedong River in Samso’k District and the Taedonggang District. It includes a series of private roads, the country’s “secret subway” and includes a network of underground residential facilities (the Suryo’ng bunkers) which Kim Jong Il used from time to time. In addition to underground facilities and special roads, the Pyongyang Inland Empire is highly secure and protects the country’s leader (and other elites) behind four dedicated layers of security personnel (Guard Command –> Ministry of People’s Security –> Pyongyang Defense Command –> III Army Corps).