Passport

Behold the Glorious New Gateway to North Korea

Kim Jong-un's new airport is "absolute perfection."

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North Korea has a new airport, and according to the hermit country’s main daily newspaper, the state-run Rodong Sinmun, the glistening tribute to North Korean ingenuity is enough to make Western travellers green with envy. To ensure that the country’s latest modern triumph was ready for prime time before its July 1 opening, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un toured the new facility, showering it with praise.

Six times larger than the previous airport, the new terminal boasts rows of glistening shops stocked with Mars bars, bottles of beer, and lushly furnished restaurants — even chocolate fondue. Images from the 37-photo newspaper spread show Kim, who is thought to have visited on Wednesday, testing its metal detectors (in contrast to the irritating full body scanners U.S. travelers are subjected to), and beaming at the glass-sided sky-bridges. Kim, the paper reported, “noted with pleasure that the gatepost of the airport was erected in such way as to sustain the national character, and the front and back of the terminal look very nice.” Former leader Kim Jong Il, Kim said, “gave a series of instructions to build well Pyongyang International Airport till the last moments of his life.”

For now, the airport will mostly serve flights to Beijing and Moscow, ferrying Chinese tourists and North Korean officials on state business. While North Korea hosted some 100,000 tourists last year, a state-sponsored drive to lure more foreign travelers aims to drive that number up to 2 million annually by 2020.

As part of that push, progress won’t stop at the airport; no sir, it won’t. Again, according to Rodong Sinmun, Kim is eying an upgrade of the area surrounding the new airport, “including the areas of Sunan District and Thaekam Farm … as befitting the gateway to the capital city of Pyongyang.” High-speed railways and a new highway, the paper reported, are part of the master plan by the Workers’ Party of Korea to ferry travelers the 15 miles from the slick new jetport into Pyongyang.

The construction was not without its issues, however. Kim reportedly complained about the project in November, telling the state-run Korean Central News Agency that “the designers failed to bear in mind the party’s idea of architectural beauty that it is the life and soul and core in architecture to preserve the Juche character and national identity.” This spring, the official overseeing construction, Lt. Gen. Ma Won Chun, was removed less than a year being promoted into the position. Ma’s purge coincided with the execution of the country’s defense chief by anti-aircraft fire.

Kim has been on something of an aviation kick as of late. Earlier this month he was photographed congratulating North Korea’s first female fighter pilots, who tearfully accepted bouquets as he called them “heroes of Korea” and “flowers of the sky,” according to CNN.

Whom, exactly, is going to be lounging in the swanky cafes and buying up the duty free swag — especially as the country may or may not be teetering on the brink of a crippling drought — remains unclear. But those lucky enough to make it, Kim said, would enjoy “absolute perfection.”

EPA/Rodong Sinmun

Thomas Stackpole is an Assistant Editor at Foreign Policy. @tom_stackpole

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