Kim Jong Un Is Having Trouble Building a Massive Ski Resort

It’s not easy building luxury resorts under trade sanctions.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the cemeteries of fallen fighters of the Korean People's Army on Thursday, July 25, 2013 in Pyongyang, North Korea.
National Journal
Matt Berman
Aug. 19, 2013, 9:52 a.m.

Over the week­end, North Korean lead­er Kim Jong Un spent some time tour­ing what he hopes will soon be a “world-class” ski re­sort in Kang­won Province, North Korea. Kim — who went to school in Switzer­land — is a big boost­er of the pro­ject, which he calls a “gi­gant­ic pat­ri­ot­ic work.” He has spe­cified the ex­act types of struc­tures that should be built, in­clud­ing a heli­port — for all those (il­leg­al) heli­copters in North Korea. The idea is, in part, to one-up South Korea ahead of  its host­ing of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Py­eongchang. “A ski­ing wave will seize the coun­try,” Kim is re­por­ted to have said.

But, as with much of life in North Korea, just be­cause Kim Jong Un says a thing will be great does not make it so.

Aside from land­slides, heavy rain, and the in­cred­ible cost of con­struct­ing a ski­ing area that spans dozens of miles in an im­pov­er­ished na­tion, North Korea will have to battle trade sanc­tions. On Monday, the gov­ern­ment of Switzer­land an­nounced that it has blocked the sale of more than $7 mil­lion worth of ski lifts and cable cars to North Korea. Kim’s gov­ern­ment had con­tac­ted sev­er­al Swiss com­pan­ies, who then needed Switzer­land’s sign-off to pro­ceed. That didn’t go over too well with the Swiss.

Switzer­land’s state sec­ret­ari­at for eco­nom­ic af­fairs called the ski re­sort a “pres­ti­gi­ous pro­pa­ganda pro­ject for the re­gime” and a spokes­per­son said that it would not be “ap­pro­pri­ate” to ex­port in­fra­struc­ture to North Korean sports fa­cil­it­ies with a “lux­ury char­ac­ter.” And it’s not just ski equip­ment that Switzer­land has now ad­ded to its list of sanc­tions for the Demo­crat­ic People’s Re­pub­lic. Swiss com­pan­ies will now not be able to sell golf, horse­back-rid­ing, or bil­liards equip­ment to the coun­try. Also, per­fume.

Switzer­land isn’t the first ski-cent­ric coun­try to knock down a sale: both France and Aus­tria have pre­vi­ously re­jec­ted deals. It may be a while be­fore we get to see pho­tos of Kim Jong Un zip­ping down powdered slopes.

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