One year into his rule, new North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has largely reverted to third-world type, squandering money on the personality cult surrounding his family and ill-conceived prestige projects while the economy languishes.
In April, the regime spent US$10 million on statues of nation founder Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il in Mansudae west of the Taedong River, which runs east to west in Pyongyang. It also built prestige structures like an eight-story theater, 20 to 45-story high-rise apartment complexes, and a children's hospital under the benevolent gaze of the statues on a main street in Pyongyang.
Two new hotels are being built to accommodate an imaginary stream of visitors.
Supposedly at Kim Jong-un's orders, the regime is also building a large swimming pool, and a massive amusement park with a dolphin show aquarium. Several rides and outdoor swimming pool have been completed. Some remodeling work including on a huge hotel in central Pyongyang has also resumed.
The cost for these "Pyongyang renaissance" projects is estimated at more than $1 billion, one sixth of the North's annual budget.
"Even senior North Korean officials are complaining that they had high hopes of Kim Jong-un, but life is actually harder than in Kim Jong-il's time because Kim junior is paying more attention to showy projects than to improving people's livelihoods," an informed source in China said.