More than 100 foreign journalists descended on Pyongyang last week at the invitation of the North Korean government. The big occasion? The reclusive state was about to convene its first ruling-party congress in 36 years. The last time it held one, in 1980, current leader
But as is often the case in North Korea, things didn’t go quite as expected. As the congress convened on Friday, journalists were kept away from the venue. Instead, government minders bused the international press corps to a wire-making factory in central Pyongyang. Asked why we were being taken there, one guide said, “to showcase our high technology.” Another simply said, “I don’t know.”
Guides said the Pyongyang 326 Electric Cable Factory produced copper and aluminum wires and had 1,000 employees, though only perhaps 100 appeared to be on duty as the throng of reporters toured the spotless facility.
Much of the technology appeared to be extremely dated, and though employees boasted that all of the machines were North Korean made, some were clearly produced abroad, by companies such as Nokia. Officials touted the benefits for the workers, including a perfectly manicured soccer field in front of the factory, and a recreation center that included a spa, barbershop, ping-pong hall, restaurants and mini-mart. A motto out front read: “Go forward to the final victory following the great leader Kim Jong Un!”