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.