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World & Nation

North Korea invites journalists to cover political confab, has them tour wire factory during the event

Pyongyang 326 Electric Cable Factory
Journalists tour the factory floor.
(Julie Makinen / Los Angeles Times)

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 Kim Jong Un hadn’t even been born.

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!”
 

Ri Song Il, 50, said he had worked at the factory for 25 years. His salary is 300,000 won per month. At the unofficial exchange rate of 8000 won per dollar, that’s $37.50 a month. A bicycle at a Pyongyang Department store costs about twice that much.
Ri Song Il, 50, said he had worked at the factory for 25 years. His salary is 300,000 won per month. At the unofficial exchange rate of 8000 won per dollar, that’s $37.50 a month. A bicycle at a Pyongyang Department store costs about twice that much. (Julie Makinen / Los Angeles Times)
A control panel on a machine inside the factory.
A control panel on a machine inside the factory. (Julie Makinen / Los Angeles Times)
A piece of propaganda art inside the factory. The plant had numerous large posters exhorting workers to follow the party and work hard for the country. “Go Higher, Go Faster!” it says.
A piece of propaganda art inside the factory. The plant had numerous large posters exhorting workers to follow the party and work hard for the country. “Go Higher, Go Faster!” it says. (Julie Makinen / Los Angeles Times)
A bulletin board shows a “model worker” from the 1980s.
A bulletin board shows a “model worker” from the 1980s. (Julie Makinen / Los Angeles Times)
A mosaic outside the factory showcases North Korea’s rocket technology and industrial prowess. It says “Towards the world!”
A mosaic outside the factory showcases North Korea’s rocket technology and industrial prowess. It says “Towards the world!” (Julie Makinen / Los Angeles Times)
The well-manicured soccer field in front of the wire factory. Men were playing soccer at 2 p.m. in the afternoon, though it was a workday.
The well-manicured soccer field in front of the wire factory. Men were playing soccer at 2 p.m. in the afternoon, though it was a workday. (Julie Makinen / Los Angeles Times)
A control console on the factory floor.
A control console on the factory floor. (Julie Makinen / Los Angeles Times)
A piece of propaganda art outside the factory. The poster exhorts workers to work hard ahead of the party congress. Depicted in the background are skyscrapers from the new “Future Science Street” in Pyongyang, a residential district for scientists and professors that was built at the behest of Kim Jong Un. It reads:
A piece of propaganda art outside the factory. The poster exhorts workers to work hard ahead of the party congress. Depicted in the background are skyscrapers from the new “Future Science Street” in Pyongyang, a residential district for scientists and professors that was built at the behest of Kim Jong Un. It reads: "Let us greet the 7th Workers Party Congress with a high sense of political enthusiasm and brilliant labor achievements." (Julie Makinen / Los Angeles Times)

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