Starting yesterday, several news outlets had reported that North Korea had released recent video of Kim Jong Il appearing in Hamhung to mark the re-opening of a textile factory in Hamhung, but to my intense aggravation, none provided a link to the actual video. YouTube, however, does not disappoint:
The video shows Kim waving to an assembled crowd with his right arm, and moving his left arm slightly to applaud … himself, presumably. Heil me. There are no shots showing both Kim Jong Il and the crowd. Note that Kim is wearing a parka, and the septuagenarians with him (Kim Yong Nam is on the right) are wearing heavy overcoats, while those in the crowd below wear business suits and hamboks. Mike Madden identifies the rest of the rogues’ gallery. Decide for yourself whether he really was appearing before this crowd. The crowd is assembled in front of what Curtis identifies as the Hamhung Grand Theater:
The two large objects in the foreground starting at :50 don’t show up in the satellite imagery. At first, I guessed that they were monuments, but if they are, they’re new. Otherwise, the scenery in the video matches the imagery.
There is no audio with this video. In fact, I haven’t heard any audio of Kim Jong Il speaking since his stroke, which leads me to suspect that his speech may still be slurred, or that the pitch of his voice may be unnaturally high in a way characteristic of stroke victims. If anyone knows more about that, I’d appreciate an e-mail or a comment.
Mike Madden’s post identifies the reopened factory as the February 8th Vinalon Complex, which, according to the Nuclear Threat Institute, is one of North Korea’s largest chemical plants. It’s also suspected of producing chemical weapons, “including blister, choking, nerve, and tear agents.”
The February 8th Vinalon Complex occupies the grounds of a former Japanese-owned factory that processed acetylene carbide to produce iso-octane for aviation fuel during World War II. Dr. Lee SÅng Ki, a famous chemical engineer and the inventor of vinalon, supervised the construction of the February 8th Vinalon Complex, which began in 1959 and was completed in 1961. The facility was the first dedicated vinalon production plant in North Korea, and it was organized as a “complex” (ï¦—åˆä¼æ¥æ‰€) in 1974. According to the Segye Ilbo, the 13th Nuclear Chemical Defense Battalion is posted here. There are no firm details about the types of CW agents that may be produced at this facility. [NTI]
The NTI has more information on the links between vinalon and chemical weapons here. Here’s a photograph of the plant from 2000:
More on the plant’s closing:
The factory, established in 1961, reportedly shut amid worsening economic difficulties in the mid-1990s. The North’s state media have said it recently resumed producing vinalon, and that would help the country become an economically prosperous nation. [AP]
Vinalon is a synthetic fiber the North Koreans claim to have been invented in secret by a Korean scientist working under the oppressive heel of the Japanese. Despite their concession that vinalon was invented in 1939, the North Koreans have appropriated vinalon as a symbol of their scientific and economic self-reliance. The North Koreans say now that the February 8th complex just “resumed mass-producing quality vinalon cotton and various chemical goods after being streamlined,” but this account seems to contradict a report of a 2008 Kim Jong Il visit:
[H]e learned about the technological updating and production at the complex, walking round the rebuilt and newly constructed workshops. After making the rounds of the exterior and interior of the rebuilt and newly established processes, he expressed great satisfaction over the fact that builders and their helpers successfully completed the large project equivalent to the construction of a big factory by their own efforts and with their technology in a brief span of time. He highly appreciated their feats and extended warm greetings to them. [KCNA, May 28, 2008]
If the plant was operating so efficiently then, why throw this big grand-reopening / streamlining bash?