Step inside North Korea’s largest textile factory and it’s not long before you’re confronted with a banner emblazoned with the slogan “Kill and tear apart the lunatic Trump.”
The less-than-subtle banner was just one of a number devoted to US President Donald Trump, whose threats of “fire and fury” over the region’s nuclear crisis have earned him few friends in Pyongyang.
But while the nuclear missile saga and Trump’s feud with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un continue to play out, those on the factory floor are getting on with life.
Following a series of nuclear tests carried out by North Korea, the United Nations imposed fresh sanctions on Pyongyang, banning countries from importing its garments or textiles.
It was a move that was supposed to crush spirits and yet the workers are seemingly galvanized by a foreign enemy.
“Didn’t that lunatic of the US Trump make absurd remarks, absurd remarks that he would do something to our country?” Mun Gang Sun, a loom operator, asked CNN.
“So with this burning hatred to destroy him and get rid of him under this sky, or rather in order to destroy him, we are working harder and harder to reply with the production output.”
Mun’s rhetoric matches the language used on the inflammatory poster, which also features a longer propaganda message in smaller letters.
“All the fighters at work achieve the everyday goal by over 200% with hearts to kill dotard Trump by cutting and tearing apart his body and cutting his head off! We storm ahead.”
Mun is just one of 8,000 workers inside the country’s largest textile mill in the east of Pyongyang and was carefully chosen by government guides to speak with CNN.
Chief engineer Ri Yong Gun, who has been working there for four years, also selected to speak with CNN, says the factory mainly produces goods for domestic consumption, providing fabric to local garment and bag manufacturers.
He said that in the past, exports were a big business, with around 20 to 25% of its output bought up by clients from Russia, China and Japan.
With sanctions bringing an end to exports, the focus has shifted, but Ri says production is continuing at a similar pace.
Most of the raw materials such as yarn and dyes, which had previously been imported, are now sourced domestically.
While Ri said the lack of foreign currency from exports was an inconvenience, he claimed sanctions were making staff work even harder.
North Korea’s textile trade was estimated to be worth some $700 million to the economy last year, and was one of the few remaining legal sources of foreign income following sanctions on the sale of coal and iron.
While it’s too early to decipher just how much damage the loss of business in the textile sector will have on the economy, previous sanctions appear not to have prevented economic growth over the past few years, according to estimates provided by the Bank of South Korea.
In fact, within the factory, there appears to be an almost defiant attitude or perhaps one of absolute denial, when it comes to the effect of sanctions.
Mun, who has worked at the factory since she left school, was recently awarded the title of “meritorious worker” for her performance on the factory floor, where she operates a weaving loom that makes polyester fabric.
But Mun is also a ranking member of the ruling Worker’s Party of Korea and was even a delegate at leader Kim Jong Un’s party congress, a position afforded to only the most loyal of members.
She is determined to serve the state – just as her parents did before they passed away.
Now, as a wife and a mother to two young children, she says she is focused on helping her country move forward and resist international interference.
Asked whether she feared the impact of sanctions or a military attack by the US, she insisted that the threats from Washington don’t register on North Korean workers and that they aren’t motivated by financial gain.
“We are only working so that our people can live a better life, to wear prettier cloth and live in a better house,” she said. “It’s nothing related to missiles and such at all.
“As long as we have our leader, as long as there’s the military as well as the power coming from our unified people, what is there to be scared and afraid of?”