North Korea Orders New Roofs For All Buildings to Suggest Sanctions Lack Teeth

nk-roof-repair-oct-2014.jpg North Koreans paint the roof of a restaurant in downtown Pyongyang, Oct. 25, 2014.
AP Photo

Authorities in North Korea have ordered residents to modernize the roofs of all buildings in a bid to dupe the international community into thinking economic sanctions have had no effect on the cash-strapped country, according to sources.

State propaganda began pressuring citizens to replace aging roofs on public and private buildings in July 2012, shortly after Kim Jong Un assumed leadership of the country, because “the images of roofs are captured on enemy satellites and are used against us by slandering our socialist system,” sources from inside the country recently told RFA’s Korean Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

By May 2013, they said, a directive was issued ordering the administrators of all buildings to update their own roofs, and factories were built in each province to manufacture metal roof tiles out of oil drums, while authorities began importing bulk metal roof tiles from neighboring China.

While residents have held collections to organize funds for modernizing roofs and the tops of many old buildings have been repaired, the sources told RFA that not even 30 percent of the country’s structures are updated, and the Kim regime is now pushing harder amid tough international sanctions aimed at freezing its nuclear weapons program.

“Roof replacement is emphasized by the Central Committee as the most important task to carry out, in order to stand against the United Nations’ sanctions,” one source from Chagang province, on the border with China, told RFA.

“The point of the Central Committee’s order to replace roofs is to complete the replacement as early as possible, so that the world will be amazed.”

According to the Chagang source, the new push was made as part of an order delivered to top-level officials at an Oct. 14 conference in the capital Pyongyang.

“The Central Committee’s order is to have the residents of each factory and household push themselves to replace roofs, so that they can show the sanctions of the enemies [international community] do not have any effect on the country,” the source added.

A second source from Yanggang province, also on the border with China, told RFA that seasonal winterizing preparations had been put on hold as township and People’s Committee officials are “pushing us to replace the roofs.”

“Powerful [well-connected] households have already completed roof replacements, but powerless households cannot even consider it” due to the exorbitant costs, the source said.

If an individual bears the expense of metal plates and painting, it will cost them 15 Chinese yuan (U.S. $2.50) for a metal processing factory to manufacture one square meter of roofing tile, while purchasing the same amount of processed roofing tile at a market costs 40 yuan (U.S. $6.00), according to the source.

“A single-story house needs at least 30 square meters of roofing tile, which means it costs at least 1,200 yuan (U.S. $180),” he said.

“A four-person household can live for five months off of that kind of money.”

International condemnation

On Tuesday, the American, Japanese and South Korean defense chiefs jointly called on North Korea to put an immediate end to its nuclear and missile tests, after they met on the sidelines of an ASEAN ministerial conference in the Philippines.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis joined his counterparts from Japan and South Korea, Itsunori Onodera and Song Young-moo, in discussing recent actions by Pyongyang that have ratcheted up security tensions in the Korean Peninsula and East Asia.

North Korea’s two recent launches of missiles that flew over Japan and its nuclear tests in September “constitute an unprecedented and grave threat to their countries as well as to the rest of the world,” the ministers said in a joint statement.

Kim has not backed down in the face of international pressure and traded threats with U.S. President Donald Trump, amid fears that a war of words could escalate into a physical war that could draw in Japan and South Korea, which host American bases.

At a separate meeting between Mattis and his counterparts from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana suggested that U.N.-backed international sanctions on North Korea were counter-productive in pressuring Pyongyang to rein in its nuclear ambitions.

“Sanctions [are] not working but still strengthening the hand of Mr Kim Jong Un,” Lorenzana told reporters, according to Agence France-Presse.

“It feeds on his fears of being invaded also and so he rallies his people to fight against invaders, to ‘support me.’ Instead of weakening him, it is strengthening his hold on his people,” said the defense chief of the Philippines, a longtime U.S. ally in Asia.

Reported by Sunghui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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