How North Korea is using this video to ‘humanize’ their capital city
Pastel-coloured skyscrapers, green parks and little traffic – that’s what you see from the skies above Pyongyang.
Singaporean photographer Aram Pan took a 360-degree video of his September flight over the North Korean capital, and online news outlet NK News posted the footage on YouTube.
Pan told NK News that his footage and photos were reviewed by North Korean authorities, and the video was visibly edited, but it’s being billed as the first 360-degree flyover of Pyongyang.
You can clearly see various monuments as the plane flies along the Taedong River through Pyongyang, as well as many skyscrapers and what look like apartment buildings. For a city of 2.8 million people, about the same population as Metro Vancouver, there is very little traffic though.
It also seems like there are relatively few people walking the streets, though the plane may have been flying too high to see pedestrians.
To Paul Evans, a professor at UBC’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, the fact that the North Korean authorities allowed this video to be taken means that there is a message behind it.
“This is an effort to, although there are no humans in the picture, to humanize Pyongyang,” he said.
“It’s a quite effective little thing and I bet it’s going to get some viewers, if only because people are curious, what does that city look like? Are there people running around with horns at the ground level, which we couldn’t see, or does it look like a modern place?”
Evans, who visited Pyongyang five times during the 1990s and early 2000s, said that this video gives “about as good a picture as you could ever get” of the city.
“You do get a visual impression of a city that is modern, on the surface of it, that has new construction, some old buildings, nicely laid out. Park-like.”
He’s surprised at the lack of traffic, as he says there was traffic in the city even when he visited more than a decade ago. “There are now reportedly even traffic jams in some places.”
He thinks approving this video was likely a matter of debate in the North Korean government, as they tend to be paranoid about aerial photography. But, he thinks a different argument won out.
“There’s somebody there that’s trying to get out a message that ‘fire and fury like the world has never known’ would be inflicted on a real place.”
He thinks that knowing more about North Korea would make people less likely to favour war with the country. “It would make it a little more complicated because anybody who looks at that would see this is a place that doesn’t look like a dark, evil castle, it looks like a Korean town actually. It could be other places in South Korea.”
This isn’t Pan’s first aerial video of the North Korean capital. He also did a flyover in 2016, although he didn’t have a 360-degree camera on board for that flight.
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