Just before President Donald Trump canceled his upcoming summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un on May 24, news had emerged from South Korea that the North Korean regime recently designated a province near the border to China a special military zone, in order to hide nuclear weapons there.
Citing a high-level source in Pyongyang, South Korean news site Daily NK revealed on May 23 that during a meeting of national security officials last month, Chagang Province, noted for its rugged terrain, was designated a “special military-first revolutionary zone.”
“Although nuclear weapons can be hidden anywhere if they are interested, it seems that the authorities seemed to consider the place where it is difficult to grasp by satellites,” the source said, as they could go undetected in the deep mountains. “Hiding the nuclear weapons and material there also means the authorities plan to store them in a highly contained facility.”
The source added that the mountains of Chagang also contain underground tunnels for Kim, his family, and his top aides’ exclusive use should they need to escape across the border to China. This news first emerged in 2015. The tunnels are several hundred meters below the surface, though few know the exact locations of them due to the secrecy under which they were built, an inside source in North Korea told Daily NK in December 2015.
“When the workers were transported to the tunnel locations to excavate, the windows were blacked out so they had no clue where they were going. When they emerged to do their work, they were blindfolded until they got to the construction site,” according to Daily NK.
The most recent Daily NK report noted that checkpoints have already been set up in Chagang Province to restrict the people and vehicles going through. The regime is also planning more ideological indoctrination for the residents there in order to ensure secrets about the region are protected.
The news was revealed as international journalists were invited to witness on May 23 the dismantling of North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear site in North Hamgyong Province.
Previously, Chinese scientists had confirmed that the site was rendered unstable after repeated bomb tests. A nuclear test in September 2017, North Korea’s biggest yet, set off a 6.3-magnitude earthquake that caused parts of the site to collapse. The scientists warned that radioactive dust could escape through cracks in the mountain.
A second site, the Yongbyon facility located in North Pyongan Province, has recently halted activities.
But both the United States and South Korea have said they believe the North has additional sites linked to a uranium-enrichment program, as North Korea is rich in uranium ore.
Hours after Punggye-ri was destroyed, Trump announced that he has called off the upcoming summit with Kim scheduled next month.
“Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it would be inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote in a letter to Kim. “Please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place.”
The week before, after visiting Beijing, Kim exhibited a harsher tone and threatened to pull out of the summit. Kim was also incensed by U.S. national security adviser John Bolton’s suggestion of using Libya as a model of nuclear disarmament. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi gave up his unfinished nuclear development program in 2003. He was killed in 2011 by NATO-backed fighters led by then-President Barack Obama.
South Korea’s presidential Blue House appeared taken off guard by Trump’s letter and an official said the Blue House was “trying to figure out what President Trump exactly meant.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in had met with Trump at the White House on May 22 in an effort to urge him to go ahead with the summit.
Reuters contributed to this report.