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Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) observed and commanded a live fire drill in Kuso’ng County, North P’yo’ngan on the afternoon (KST) of 9 May.

Prior to the drill, Jong Un was briefed about its details.  The “successful drill of deployment and strike designed to inspect the ability of rapid reaction of the defense units in the forefront area and on the western front fully showed the might of the units which were fully prepared to proficiently carry out any operation and combat in the flames of the practical actual maneuvers kindled by the Party.”

Kim Jong Un expressed his “satisfaction with the deployment and strike assault” and said that “some days ago the defense units on the eastern front perfectly carried out their strike task and today’s drill showed full preparations of the defense units on the western front and the excellent ability of the units in the forefront area to carry the task of a strike, in particular.”

Jong Un “stressed the need to further increase the capability of the defense units in the forefront area and on the western front to carry out the combat tasks and keep full combat posture to cope with any emergency as required by the prevailing situation and in keeping with the Party’s strategic intention.”  He noted that the “genuine peace and security of the country are guaranteed only by the strong physical fore capable of defending its sovereignty” and stressed that “the people’s heroic struggle for creation by the force of arms of the revolution in the future, too.”

He issued “important tasks for further increasing the strike ability of the defense units of the KPA in the forefront area and on the western front.”

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Kim Jong Un watches an MLRS drill in Wo’nsan on September 4, 2019 (Photo: Rodong Sinmun)

(Photo: Google image)

Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) observed and directed live fire tactical weapons and multiple-launch rocket system [MLRS] drills at the Hodo-ri Proving Grounds near Wo’nsan on the morning of 4 May (Saturday) KST.

(Photo: KCTV)

According to KCNA, the”purpose of the drill was to estimate and inspect the operating ability and the accuracy of striking duty performance of large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons by defense units in the frontline area and on the eastern front and the combat performance of arms and equipment and to more powerfully arouse the entire army to the movement for becoming crackshots with the drill as an occasion and thus put it at combat readiness posture all the time.”

(Photo: KCTV)

Also in attendance were senior Workers’ Party of Korea [WPK] Central Committee officials Kim Phyong Hae (Kim P’yo’ng-hae), O Su Yong (O Su-yo’ng), Ri Pyong Chol (Ri Pyo’ng-ch’o’l) and Jo Yong Won (Cho Yo’ng-wo’n).  Korean People’s Army [KPA] Chief of the General Staff Gen. Ri Yong Gil (Ri Yo’ng-kil) and KPA artillery boss Gen. Pak Jong Chon (Pak Cho’ng-chon) also participated in the drill.

Photo: KCTV

(Photo: KCNA/Rodong)

Kim Jong Un praised the “People’s Army for its excellent operation of modern large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons.”  He said that “all service members are master gunners and they are capable of carrying out their duty to promptly tackle any situations as a result of their full knowledge of modern weapons systems and intensive training.”

Kim Jong Un and KPA Chief of the General Staff Gen. Ri Yong Gil watchs the drill on 4 May 2019 (Photo: Rodong)

He spoke “highly of the successful striking drill though it was organized without advance notice” and expressed “great satisfaction with the rapid response ability of those defense units in the frontline area and on the eastern front to keep them fully ready to go into combat action immediately upon the issuance of an order at any moment.”  Jong Un issued “important instructions for improving and strengthening the operation and combat drills of the People’s Army.”

Kim Jong Un “stresses the need for all service members to keep high alert posture and more dynamically wage the drive to increase the combat ability so as to defense the political sovereignty and economic self-sustenance of the country and the gains of the revolution and the security of the people from the threats and invasions by any forces, bearing in mind the iron truth that genuine peace are security are ensured and guaranteed by powerful strength.”

Photo: KCTV/NK Leadership Watch

May the Fourth be with You?

May 2019 marks the 18-month period in which the DPRK has decided on a moratorium on ballistic missile drills and nuclear weapons testing, prior to Kim Jong Un authorizing on 29 November 2017 the North’s last ballistic missile test.  It was only a matter of time before Kim Jong Un would attend public events conducted by the WPK Munitions Industry Department.  Because there had been a lull in these types of events, following the fire and fury period, this drill and the anti-tank weapons drill on 18 April are attracting more attention and scrutiny than warranted.

Photo: KCNA/Rodong Sinmun/NK Leadership Watch

In the context of 2018-2019 and the DPRK’s defense industrial sector these are notable events.  In the context of 2015-2019, this pair of field test-cum-drills is hardly a blip considering the toys and fireworks involved.  Both of these drills were events of the KPA General Staff Department apparatus with a secondary function by MID personnel and involve short-range weapons drills.

Photo: KCNA/Rodong Sinmun

From the perspective of MID they are shuffling senior manager resources and R and D attention to the KPA’s conventional weapons away from WMDs and ballistic missile drills.  These weapons, as underlined in state media reporting on the 4 May drills, find use for the KPA’s forward deployed ground corps.  They are also portable or mobile weapons that can be used by internal security forces wary of foreign site visits and NGO study tours wandering the country if rapprochement continues, and certainly for deployment to Jong Un’s homes, offices and home-offices.

State media reporting about the MLRS drill emphasized its “defensive” nature.  One could certainly add this to a budding list of signposts that Kim Jong Un and the core leadership are formulating or have formulated components of an exit-ramp strategy for disengaging or minimizing its recent external engagements.  But it’s still a blip.

Of course,  this will not interfere with a lot of noise and talking points, particularly as the presidential Twitter account decreed today’s excitement in Wo’nsan as no BFD (which it is), about provocations and alliances and summits. Remind the teacher homework was not ladled out and so forth.

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Photo: KCNA/Rodong Sinmun

Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) observed and commanded the test of a tactical “guided weapon conducted by the Academy of Defense Science” on 17 April (Wednesday).  Also in attendance were Workers’ Party of Korea Vice Chairmen Kim Phyong Hae (Kim P’yo’ng-hae) and O Su Yong (O Su-yo’ng), WPK Organization Guidance Department Senior Deputy Director and Personal Secretariat fixture Jo Yong Won (Cho Yo’ng-wo’n), WPK Munitions Industry Department Senior Deputy Director and Operations Command Group member Ri Pyong Chol (Ri Pyo’ng-ch’o’l), WPK Munitions Industry Department Deputy Director Kim Jong Sik (Kim Cho’ng-sik), Korean People’s Army [KPA] high command members Gen. Kim Su Gil (Kim Su-kil), Gen. Ri Yong Gil (Ri Yo’ng-kil), Gen. No Kwang Chol (No Kwang-ch’o’l), Gen. Pak Jong Chon (Pak Cho’ng-chon) and Col. Gen. Pak Kwang Ju (Pak Kwang-chu).

Jong Un was greeted by Academy of Defense Sciences leading officials Jang Chang Ha and Jon Il Ho.  He was briefed about the new piece of weapon including the “formation of the weapon system and its operation mode.”  He said that the “completion of the development of the weapon system serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People’s Army” and he noted “that it is a very good thing that the field of national defense science has waged a dynamic struggle for attaining core research goals set forth by the Party at the 8th Conference of Munitions Industry and thus conducted brisk activities for developing our own style weapon system which embodies four elements.”

Kim Jong Un and the senior officials accompany him ascended to an observation post.  There he learned “about a plan of the test-fire of the new-type tactical guided weapon” and “guided the test-fire.”  After the weapons test, Jong Un pointed out “that our national defense scientists and workers in the field of munitions industry performed another great work in increasing the country’s defense capabilities.”  He said “with pride that he had always been struck with admiration at them in the period of developing strategic weapons and our scientists, technicians and workers are, indeed, great and there is no weapon that is impossible to make when they are determined so to do.”

He set “the phased and strategic goals for keeping munitions production going on and putting national defense science and technology on a cutting-edge level and indicated tasks and ways to attain them.”

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View of the 4th plenary meeting of the WPK Central Committee in Pyongyang on April 10 2019 (Photo: Rodong Sinmun)

The fourth plenary session (plenum) of the 7th Term Workers’ Party of Korea [WPK] Central Committee [CC] was held in central Pyongyang on 10 April (Wednesday).  Kim Jong Un chaired and directed the meeting.

The first agenda item concerned “holding higher the banner of self reliance in the socialist construction.”  Jong Un delivered a report which “made a scientific analysis of the changed international landscape and the peculiarities of the present situation becoming daily acute and clarified the main tenor of the recent DPRK-US summit talks and the Party’s stand towards it.”  He underscored “the need to more vigorously advance socialist construction by dint of the self-supporting national economy suited to the specific local conditions of our country based on our efforts, technology and resources under the uplifted banner of self reliance, so as to deal a telling blow to the hostile forces who go around with bloodshot eyes miscalculating that sanctions can bring the DPRK to its knees.”

View of the Central Committee plenary session in Pyongyang on April 10, 2019 (Photo: KCNA/Rodong)

Kim Jong Un addresses the fourth plenary session of the 7th term Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee in Pyongyang on April 10, 2019 (Photo: Rodong/KCNA)

Kim Jong Un “reviewed and analyzed the successes and faults in the struggle for speeding up the socialist construction under the uplifted banner of self-reliance after the 7th Congress of the WPK, and set forth immediate objectives and tasks to be carried out without fail in further demonstrating the might of the self-supporting economy” and he “referred to the great achievements for socialist construction made in all the fields and regions and by units through the indomitable offensive under the banner of self-reliance and self-sufficiency in recent years.”

He noted that ” great progress was registered in the struggle to make the national economy Chuch’e-based and self-supporting and the reserved strength of the DPRK and tremendous potential of its independent economy were vividly demonstrated at home and abroad, adding that through the remarkable successes achieved in socialist construction he could keenly feel that our line was right over and over again.”  Jong Un stressed that “self-reliance and the self-supporting national economy are the bedrock of the existence of our own style socialism, the motive power of its advance and development and the eternal lifeline essential to the destiny of our revolution.”

Photo: KCNA/Rodong

Kim Jong Un noted that “first and foremost issue arising in accelerating socialist construction under the uplifted banner of self-reliance is to secure a sure guarantee for putting the national economy on a new phase of growth by expanding and reinforcing the foundation of self-supporting economy” and he “clarified in detail the immediate tasks for sectors of the national economy.”  He said that “officials in all fields and units should do their best for the development of science and education, bearing in mind that the success of relevant fields and units as well as the present and future of socialist construction depend on the thorough implementation of the Party’s policy of attaching importance to science and education and talents” and he made a special mention on “decisively enhancing the role of the Party organizations in the struggle to vigorously speed up the socialist construction under the uplifted banner of self-reliance.”

After the Chairman’s Report, meeting speakers ” extended unanimous and full support to the historic report of Kim Jong Un that clarified the immortal guidelines to be adhered to as the lifeline in the struggle for building the powerful socialist country.”

Kim Jong Un raises his hand to vote during the WPK Central Committee April 2019 plenary session (Photo: Rodong/KCNA)

The second agenda item concerned “a proposal for the formation of the state leadership bodies, including the State Affairs Commission, the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and the Cabinet of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to be submitted to the First Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly,” which is a lengthy way of saying personnel appointments and statutory changes to the three pillars of the DPRK Government.  Kim Jong Un presented this “for discussion” and the WPK CC plenary meeting “decided with unanimous approval to submit the proposal to the First Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly.”

Members of the WPK Central Committee vote during the meeting (Photo: KCNA/Rodong)

Then the WPK Central Committee meeting “discussed the organizational affairs” in which some of our favorite party organizations were “de-established” and underwent personnel housecleaning.

Kim Jae Ryong, Ri Man Gon and Choe Hwi were elected members of the WPK Central Committee Political Bureau on April 10, 2019 (Photo: Rodong)

Pak Thae Dok, Gen. Kim Su Gil, Thae Hyong Chol and Col. Gen. Jong Kyong Thaek were elected members of the WPK Central Committee Political Bureau on April 10, 2019 (Photo: Rodong)

Elected as full members of the WPK Political Bureau were: Kim Jae Ryong (Kim Ch’ae-ryong), Ri Man Gon (Ri Man-ko’n), Choe Hwi (Ch’oe Hwi), Pak Thae Dok (Pak T’ae-tok), General Kim Su Gil (Kim Su-kil), Thae Hyong Chol (T’ae Hyo’ng-ch’o’l), and Colonel-General Jong Kyong Thaek (Cho’ng Kyo’ng-t’aek).

Jo Yong Won, Kim Tok Hun, Ri Ryong Nam, Pak Jong Nam, Ri Hi Yong and Jo Chun Ryong were elected alternate members of the WPK Political Bureau on April 10, 2019 (Photo: Rodong )

Elected as alternate (candidate) members of the WPK Political Bureau were: Jo Yong Won (Cho Yo’ng-wo’n), Kim Tok Hun (Kim Tok-hun), Ri Ryong Nam (Ri Ryong-nam), Pak Jong Nam (Pak Cho’ng-nam), Ri Hi Yong (Ri Hi-yo’ng) and Jo Chun Ryong (Cho Ch’un-ryong).

Members of the WPK Central Committee itself (this is awkward) and the WPK Central Auditing Commission were recalled and elected, or elevated.

Pak Pong Ju and Ri Man Gon were appointed WPK Vice Chairmen.

The Party Central Military Commission [CMC] had a housecleaning.  Kim Jae Ryong, Ri Man Gon, Thae Jong Su (T’ae Cho’ng-su) and Kim Jo Guk (Kim Cho-kuk) were elected CMC members.

Some of the WPK Central Committee Department Directors and Senior Deputy Directors were removed from office or assigned other positions.  Ri Man Gon, Jang Kum Chol (Chang Kum-ch’o’l) and Kim Tong Il (Kim To’ng-il) were appointed department directors.  Jo Yong Won, Kim Jo Guk and Kim Yong Su (Kim Yo’ng-su) were appointed to the position of 1st Vice (Senior Deputy) Department Director.

Finally, the WPK’s provincial party committees saw four personnel changes: Kang Pong Hun (kang Pong-hun) was appointed Chairman of the Chagang Provincial WPK Committee; Pak Chang Ho (Pak Chang-ho) was appointed Chairman of the North Hwanghae Provincial WPK Committee;  Ri Chol Man (Ri Ch’o’l-man) was appointed Chairman of the South Hwanghae WPK Committee; and, Kim Chol Sam (Kim Ch’o’l-sam) was appointed Chairman of the Namp’o WPK City Committee.

Kim Jong Un wrapped things up with some remarks.  According to KCNA:

He emphasized some issues arising in applying the revolutionary stand and the principle of self-reliance.

First of all, he underlined the need to make a clear understanding of the intention of the Party Central Committee which raised the issue of holding higher the banner of self-reliance as the main agenda of the current plenary meeting.

He stressed that the basic spirit of the Fourth Plenary Meeting of the Seventh Party Central Committee is that the entire party, the whole country and all the people should courageously wage an all-out death-defying campaign to bring about a great surge in socialist construction by taking self-reliance as a treasured sword of prosperity today when the building of an economic power is raised as the main political task.

He underlined the need to vigorously wage a grand advance for attaining the goals of economic construction set forth by the plenary meeting of the Party Central Committee to give full play to the offensive stamina of the country and confidently switch over to a new stage of growth.

He also emphasized the importance of duty and role of the officials in properly drawing up the strategy of self-reliance and organizing all work on a scientific basis.

He stressed the need for the party organizations and working people’s organizations to dynamically wage the political work for powerfully arousing all the party members and other working people to the grand march of self-reliance and thus make the whole country seethe with a new revolutionary atmosphere.

To thoroughly establish the socialist lifestyle is an important work for maintaining the Juche character and national identity and preserving the true nature of socialism and giving full play to its advantages in the field of cultural life, he said. He advanced the tasks facing the party organizations and officials in the struggle to do so.

He expressed the expectation and conviction that all the officials, party members and other working people would vigorously wage the grand march of self-reliance to successfully attain the goals of struggle set forth by the Fourth Plenary Meeting of the Seventh Party Central Committee and thus achieve a new development in socialist construction and powerfully demonstrate once again the might of the country winning victory after victory with the might of self-development.

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(Photo: Rodong Sinmun)

Two members of the core leadership conducted inspection tours of production units located in their respective home provinces.

DPRK Premier and State Affairs Commission Vice Chairman Pak Pong Ju conducted on-site inspections in North Hamgyo’ng Province.  He visited Kim Cha’ek Iron and Steel Complex and the Ch’o’ngjin Steel Plant.

At the Kim Ch’aek complex, he stressed the “the need to increase the production of Chuch’e Iron while reducing the consumption of oxygen and to establish in a modern style the shape steel production base needed for building the greenhouse farm.”  During his inspection of the Ch’o’ngjin Steel Plant, Premier Pak discussed issues “arising in hastening the repairing of the revolving furnaces and ensuring their normal operating ratio and took measures for maintaining and reinforcing the production base as required by the Party’s intention.”

Pak also talked about issues “supplying in time and in a responsible manner the equipment and materials needed for projects at the construction sites of O’rgangch’o’n Power Station, P’alhyang Dam and Yombunchin Hotel.”

WPK Vice Chairman and State Affairs Commission Vice Chairman Choe Ryong Hae visited agricultural units in North Hwanghae Province.

He toured Migok Cooperative Farm in Sariwo’n where he “underlined the need for the farm positively introduce the advanced farming technologies and methods, increase the operating ratio of farm machines, do all the farm work in a sincere manner and thus always take the lead in glorifying the Party’s leadership exploits.”  At a visit to the Hwangju Country Farm Machine Station Choe remarked that the station “should properly ensure farm machine serving and production of accessories and invent and introduce new farming facilities through a good operation of its sci-tech learning space and that the Party’s organizations should conduct a brisk mass movement for arousing the working people to the implementation of the Party policy.”

Choe Ryong Hae also conducted inspection tours of the Sariwo’n Chicken Farm, the Sariwo’n Duck Fark and the Changcho’n Cooperative Farm in Hwangju Country.  He convened consultative meetings that “took measures for the Party officials to conduct a frontline-style political work among the producers and farmers in a unique manner in order to positively excite their revolutionary zeal and for relevant fields to supply farming materials in time.”

Prior to visiting sites in North Hwanghae, Choe toured the Pyongyang Ostrich Farm.

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Kim Jong Un speaks during a March 9, 2019 expanded plenary session of the WPK Political Bureau (Photo: Rodong Sinmun).

The Workers’ Party of Korea [WPK] Central Committee Political Bureau [Politburo] met on the second floor of the WPK Central Committee office building on the afternoon of 9 April (Tuesday).  Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) guided the gathering of Members and Alternate (candidate) Members of the Political Bureau along with provincial party chairs and some of the Central Committee’s department directors, senior deputy directors and deputy directors attended the meeting.

Pak Kwang Ho (annotated) at the Politburo meeting

This was the first observed appearance of WPK Vice Chairman and Propaganda and Agitation [Information and Publicity] Director Pak Kwang Ho (Pak Kwang-ho).  Pak had not been observed in state media in nearly 180 days (around October), except when his was election as a deputy to the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly was announced on state radio on March 13.  Pak was in ill health and took an extended leave of absence.  Standing in his place at some events was PAD’s long time iron hand in the velvet glove Kim Ki Nam and for other events PAD’s Senior Deputy Director, former Rodong editor Ri Yong Sik.

The Politburo meeting’s agenda included proposals for the SPA session on on the DPRK’s national budget for the upcoming year and a report on its implementation during 2018, as well as proposing the convocation and agenda of the fourth plenary meeting (plenum) of the 7th WPK Central Committee on 10 April (Wednesday). There was also a briefing about the work “of leading officials of the Party Central Committee, and the government and provincial party committees.”

Views of the April 9, 2019 expanded Politburo meeting at the WPK Central Committee office building (Photos: KCNA/Rodong Sinmun).

Jong Un analyzed the “work of the departments of the Party Central Committee and the Cabinet” and he “pointed to merits and demerits observed in the work and life members of the Political Bureau and officials of the government and local party committees.” He “made a deep analysis of the matters pending urgent solutions in the party and state.”  Kim Jong Un urged “the need for leading officials to full display a high sense of responsibility and creativity, and the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance and fortitude in an attitude befitting the masters of the revolution and construction under the prevailing tense situation and thus follow through on the new strategic line of the Party.”

Kim Jong Un presides and leads the expanded session of the WPK CC Political Bureau on April 9, 2019 (Photos: Rodong/KCNA).

The Suryo’ng stressed that “main departments of the Party Central Committee should correctly set the key points in the guidance for implementing the Party’s policies, carry out all work in a responsible, active and creative manner and effect a new turn in the party work by increasing their function and role in every way required by the developing revolution.”

Jong Un emphasized that “formalism, expediency, subjectivism, self-protectionism, defeatism, party authority and bureaucratism chronic among leading officials and all sorts of other undesirable practices should be rooted out and they work with dedication to implement the Party’s line and policies and fulfill their revolutionary obligation as true servants of the people.”

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North Korea Leadership Watch by Nkleadershipwatch - 3M ago

Kim Jong Un is briefed about products for sale at Taesong Department Store in Pyongyang on April 8, 2019. In the background at the right appears to be DPRK Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho (Photo: Rodong Sinmun/KCNA).

The 14th Supreme People’s Assembly [SPA] opens its five-year term of office with its first session.

In the days leading up to the SPA’s convocation, Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) conducted a walk through of the renovated and expanded Taesong Department Store leading up to the store’s grand re-opening.  Also in attendance were Light Industry Department Director An Jong Su (An Cho’ng-su) and other development and economic officials of the State Affairs Commission (explicitly ID’d by DPRK state media), as well as a few diplo-foreign policy types such as IAD deputy director and working level China conduit Kim Song Nam.

This might foreshadow an SPA opener focused on economic development (with Cabinet updates on the Five Year State Strategy) and external relations.   It remains to be seen if the WPK Central Committee or Politburo will convene ahead of or just after the SPA.

Deputies to the 14th SPA are

Han Song Guk
Yun Yong Chol
Pak Kum Hui
Kim Yun Sil
Kim Yo Jong
Kim Song Bong
Kim Yong Bok
Kim Tong Suk
Ri Song Chun
Hong So Hon
Sim Kyong Ok
Gil Kum Sun
Kim Myong Hwan
Kim Sok Nam
Kim Hyon
Ri Yong Hui
Jo Gil Ryo
Pang Sung Son
Kim Hye Ran
Ri Mi Ok
Choe Hui Thae
Hwang Sun Hui
Choe Ryong Hae
Ri Sung Ho
Ri Su Yong
Hong Song Kwang
O Yong Jae
Pak In Suk
Thae Hyong Chol
Yang Hyong Sop
Jong Myong Il
Jo Kum Ju
Jang Chol
Kim Song Hui
Ri Song Uk
Ri Myong Chol
Choe Song Ran
Kim Yong Pae
Cha Hui Rim
Choe Song Won
Sim Il Chol
Ri Man Gon
Rim Tong Hun
Ri Gun Il
Jo Myong Nam
Han Myong Hui
Kim Yong Nam
Kim Ki Nam
Pak Hyong Ryol
Ri Un Jong
Jo Ju Yong
Ri Pyong Chol
Ko Song Tok
Ham Chol Nam
Kim Kwang Uk
An Myong Gon
Ri Yong Suk
Kang Sung Chol
Kim Hae Song
Rim Kwang Ung
Jon Sung Nam
Jo Hyong Chol
Choe Chol Jung
Ryom Tok Chun
Pak Hyok
Jong Yong Suk
Yun Kye Su
Ri Yong Chol
Paek Sok Sun
Kim Jong Suk
Rim Won Chun
Kim Nung O
Jon Ha Rim
Ri Man Song
Ri Won Ok
Jo Jun Mo
Kim Jae Ok
Kim Jong Chol
Kang Phyo Yong
Kim Phyo Hun
Hwang Kang Chol
Hong Pyong Chol
Chae Myong Hak
An Myong Ok
Kim Yong Su
Kim Sung Du
Min Sang Gi
Choe Chang Gi
Ri Ryong Nam
Ri Chang Gun
Ri Kye Pong
Ri Gun Ho
Choe Chi Son
Yun Jong Guk
O Su Yong
Kim Kum Suk
Yun Yong Nam
Jang Jong Nam
Kim Sun Hwa
Kim Chang Gon
Kim Tok Hun
Jang Kyong Chol
Rim Tong Chol
Ri Il Hwan
O Yong Gon
Kim Tu Il
Choe Yong Il
Sim Tong Chol
Ryu Tu Hyon
Pak Pong Ju
Song Chang Ho
Choe Kwang Il
Choe Jang Il
Im Chol Ung
Ri Yong Chol
Mun Myong Hak
Yu Rim Ho
Kim Yong Dae
Ko Ki Chol
Ri Myong Hak
Yun Jong Sil
Kim Song Il
Sin O Chun
Han Chol
Kim Chun Son
So Kyong Sim
Ma Won Chun
Pak Thae Song
Yu Chol U
Ri Yong Chol
Ri Song Chol
Kim Chae Nam
Kim Man Song
Choe Yong Song
Kang Hyong Bong
Rim Tok Hwa
Kim Song Hui
Jang Sun Kum
Jon Kwang Ho
Ryu Won Song
Kim Ki Gun
Choe Yong Hui
Kang Chu Ryon
Kim Ok Ryon
O Yong Chol
Jong Yong Nam
Ju Yong Il
Kim Ung Sop
Sin Ung Sik
Ri Myong Hui
Kim Yong Chol
Mun Sun Hui
Kim Kwang Su
U Won Yong
Jon Hak Chol
Jo Won Thaek
Pak Tong Chol
Wang Chang Uk
Son Sok Gun
Jang Se Hyon
Pak Yong Jin
Kim Hyong Il
Kim Tong Il
Ri Gwon
Kim Kwang Hyok
Jang Yong Su
Jong Se Yong
Kim Yong Jin
Kim Myong Ho
Yun Tong Hyon
Kim Jong Gwan
Hwang Gun Il
Kim Myong Sik
Chin Chol Su
So Hong Chan
Yun Pyong Gwon
Kim Song Chol
No Kwang Chol
Kim Hyong Ryong
Son Chol Ju
Jo Kyong Chol
Kim Thaek Gu
Pak Su Il
Pang Kwan Bok
Ho Yong Chun
Ri Tu Song
Ri Tong Chun
Ri Yong Ju
An Ji Yong
Kim Sok Hong
Choe Tu Yong
Pak Myong Su
Ri Thae Sop
Ri Bong Chun
Ju Song Nam
Kim Kum Chol
Kim Sang Ryong
Pak Jong Chon
Song Sok Won
Kim Myong Nam
Kim Su Gil
Kim Kwang Su
Ri Man Guk
Song Yong Gon
Ko Myong Su
Ri Jong Nam
Ri Yong Gil
Kang Sun Nam
Hong Jong Tuk
Ri Kwang Ho
Ri Yong Chol
Hong Chol Gun
Jon Jae Gwon
Ju Tong Chol
Kim Kwang Hyok
Ri Myong Su
Kwak Chang Sik
Jo Thae San
Kim Yong Ho
Jang Il Su
Choe Pu Il
Kang Phil Hun
Ri Yong Hwan
Jon Thae Nam
Ro Kyong Chun
So Ran Hui
Ri Jong Ryol
Jong Yong Guk
Kim Man Su
Sin Ryong Man
O Jong Hui
Kim Hye Yong
Kang Ryong Mo
Pak Hui Min
Pak Jong Gun
Kim Hwa Song
So Chun Yong
Kim Jong Chol
Yang Sung Ho
Ho Chol Yong
Kim Kwang Un
Paek Jong Ran
Ri Yong Chun
Kim Kyong Ae
Son Hui Chol
Kim Kwang Song
Kim Myong Ok
Kang Won Sik
Ri Chang Sok
Hwang Chun Thaek
Kim Chol
Kim Yong Son
Kim Se Wan
Hong Kwang Hyok
Choe Chan Il
Kim Yong Sun
Kim Pyong Ho
Choe Yong Tok
Paek On
Jang Chang Ha
Kim Yong Gil
Kim Myong Chol
Ri Chung Gil
Kim Chol Ho
Paek In Chol
Kwon Song Ho
Jo Jong Mun
Ho Kwang Chun
Kim Il Guk
Cha Sung Su
Pak Thae Sik
Choe Kwang Chol
Kim Song Nam
Choe Myong Sil
Ryu Jong Guk
Ho Kwang Il
Pak Yong Sun
Kim Kum Sil
Ri Ju O
Mun Kyong Dok
Kim Yong Song
Ju Yong Sik
Choe Yong
Kim Kyong Hui
Choe Hyok Chol
Jong Kyong Il
Ri Chol Jin
Hang Chang Ho
O Hye Son
Ho Jong Ok
Kim Kyong Nam
Kim Yong Gyu
Kim Gun Chol
Han Tong Song
Hong Yong Chil
Mo Sung Gil
Choe Yong Song
Jo Yong Su
Choe Hak Chol
Paek Myong Chol
Paek Sun Yong
Ri Yong Chol
Choe Song Il
So Sung Chol
Kim Tong Sun
Kim Yong Chol
Kang Ji Yong
Pak Myong Chol
U Chang Sik
An Hye Song
Pak Pong Tok
Jang Yong Su
Yo Man Hyon
Choe Sun Chol
Ri Myong Chol
Paek Kyong Sin
Kim Ok Ryong
Kim Chang San
An Kyong Hwa
Hong Bong Chol
Mun In Chol
Ri Yong Chol
Kim Ik Chung
Kim Jong
Kim Son Hui
Kim Ung Chol
Kan Gil Yong
Ri Hwa Kyong
Kil Kyong Hui
Kim Ik Song
Ko In Ho
Kim Chang Yop
Choe Yong Sam
Ri Jae Sik
Kim Chang Nam
Mun Ung Jo
Pak Yong Ho
Kwon Jong Sil
Choe Hwi
Ri Hye Suk
Kim Yong Ae
Kim Thae Song
So Pyong Hwan
Song Won Gil
Kim Chun Do
Kang Jong Hui
Won Kyong Mo
Kim Thae Sik
Kim Chin Guk
Ri Chol Man
Kang Myong Chol
Pak Thae Dok
Chin Yon Sil
Hong Myong Gi
Choe Tong Yun
Kim Myong Chol
Yang Yong Gil
Choe Sung Ho
Ri Hong Sop
Pak Yon Ok
Kim Jong Ho
Ri Jong Suk
O In Nam
Jong Su Hyok
O Myong Chun
Jae Kang Hwan
Song Yun Hui
Kang Yun Sok
Ri Song Gwon
Ri Yong Rae
Ri Yong Ho
Ri Yong Sim
Paek Chun Gi
Jong Kyong Thaek
Choe Pyong Ryol
Pang Kang Su
Ri Kum Chol
Kim Yong Chol
Ri Kil Song
An Yong Hwan
Ri Hye Jong
Ro Kwang Sop
Kim Chol Guk
Ho Chol Nam
Ri Hang Gol
Ri Yong Sik
Ryang Jong Hun
Kim Chae Chol
Kim Chang Gwang
Jo Chol Song
Ko Kil Son
Kim Tae Song
Cha Jae Hui
Ko Jong Chol
Kim Jong Ok
Han I Chol
O Myong Song
Kwon Thae Yong
Pak Kum Song
Kim Tu Chol
Kim Jae Song
An Tong Chun
Ri Yong Jin
Ryu Myong Kum
Pak Myong Son
Nam Yong Suk
Ju Dong Chol
Choe Sin Uk
Ki Kwang Ho
Kim Yong Ho
Kim Jong Chol
Kim Wan Su
Pak Hye Suk
Ho Bong Il
Ri Jong Chol
Ho Ryong
Kim Jong Ok
Jang Ki Ho
Jo Yong Chol
Kim Kyong Sim
Jo Yon Jun
Yun Jae Hyok
Han Ung So
Ri Jong Hyok
Ri Kum Ok
Im Hun
Ro Tu Chol
An Yong Nam
Jang Hyok
Choe Chang Son
Kim Hye Ran
Jong Kwang Chol
Han Yong Ho
Kim Myong Hun
Jae Jong Sok
Kim Chon Ho
Kim Jae Ryong
Pak Chol Hun
Ham Nam Hyok
Thae Jong Su
Ri Yong Hon
Ri Sung Kum
Sin Kwan Chin
Ri Su Ryon
Kim Yong Il
Hong Sung Mu
So Kyong Ho
Pak Chun Gon
Kim Jong Yun
Pak Yong Bok
Ko Pyong Hyon
Ri Hyong Gun
So Kyong Chol
Kim Kwang Ju
Kim Tuk Hong
Chang Il Ryong
Kim Chang Gol
Song Jong Hak
Ri Sung Nyo
Ri Chol Ho
Jang Kum Hui
Rim Sun Hui
Pyon Ung Gyu
Choe Kwang Il
Jang Sung Ho
Ryu Kyong Ho
Pae Yong Suk
An Jong Su
Ri Yong Sik
Han Sang Chun
Won Nam Chol
Ri Chol Ho
Kim Jong Sim
Yom Yong Hak
Pak Kwang Song
Pak Jong Nam
U Jong Suk
Han Yong Chol
Ham Jong Chol
Son Kum Wol
Jo Song Chol
Pak Chol Min
Jon Chang Guk
Choe Son Hui
So Kwang Ok
Kye Hun Nyo
Hwang Man Bok
Ri Tu Il
Mun Yong Chol
Kim Kuk Chang
Ri Ik
Hwang Min
An Yong Sik
Nam Sung U
Sin Chol Hui
Pak Jong Ho
Ryu Jong Chol
Paek Jong Sun
Kim Kum Yong
Yu Kyong Hak
Ri Thae Jin
Yun Chol Ho
Mun Yong Son
Kim Myong Gil
Mun Sang Gwon
Ho Song Chol
Han Song Il
Ryu Kyong Suk
Kim Sung Jin
Kim Sung Gi
Pak Song Il
Kang Son
Ri Guk Chol
Kim Kwang Sik
Jang Song Chol
Ri Kyong Il
Ri Chang Ryong
Kim Chol Ha
Kim Chol Ryong
Ri Yu Chol
Kang Chol Ku
Kim Song Il
Song Chun Sop
Kim Sang Song
Jon Hye Song
Ho Thae Chol
Kang Jong Gwan
Ri Jong Mu
Kim Chol Su
Jang Chun Kun
Jang Chun Gun
Hwang Yong Sam
Kim Jong Dok
Kim Jong Sok
Ryom Chol Su
Kim Kwang Sok
Kim Hyon Jin
Ri Jong Hwa
Ju Hwa Suk
Yun Yong Il
Choe Jong Ho
Kim Bong Yong
Sok Won Chun
Nam Yong Hwa
Pak Chun Nam
Jon Song Guk
Ri Myong Chol
Ri Sung Nyon
Pak Chung U
Pang Chang Tok
Kang Song Hui
Kim Sok Sun
Jon Il
Han Ju Song
Ri Wan Ho
Pak Jong Hyon
Han Ryong Guk
Choe Il Ryong
Kim Song Bong
Ri Yong Ae
Kang Su Rin
Kim Tong Chun
Pak Hun
Choe Bok Sun
Han Chang Sun
Ju Jong Kyong
Kang Jong Ho
Jong Kyong Hwa
Ko Thae Ryong
Kim Kyong Ho
Kim Song Gu
Han Myong Hui
Kang Jong Sil
Kim Yong Gyu
Kim Kyong Jun
Tong Jong Ho
Ri Kang Son
Choe In Ho
Ri Tam
Thae Chin Hyok
Pyon Sung Gon
Kim Song
Ryang Yong Ho
Kim Kwang Nam
Choe Chu Chol
Tong Hun
Choe Yong Ho
Kim Song Won
Hong Kil Ho
Kim Hyon Myong
Kim Chol Ho
Kim Ki Song
Ri Chol
Kim Chang Gil
Ri Yong Son
Kang Yong Ju
Kang Yong Su
Ko Ju Kwang
Ri Sun Sil
Ri Gwi OK
Ri Hye Sun
Jon Song Man
Ho Thae Ryol
Ri Song Jae
Choe Il
Choe Un Sil
Rim Chun Hui
Kim Il
Yun Kang Ho
Choe Kwi Nam
Jo Kum Hui
Kim Hyong Jun
Ryang Won Jin
U Ung Ho
Choe Yong Suk
Kim Yong Ho
Ho Jong Man
Choe Yong Suk
Ri Yong Chol
Pak Kun Sok
Jang Chun Sil
Nam Hong Son
Pak In Su
Myong Song Chol
Phyo Il Sok
Kim Chung Gol
Ro Song Ung
Ri Hye Yong
Kim Ok Ryon
Kim Kwang Chol
Sin Chol Ung
Jon Han Gil
Ji Jae Ryong
O Kyong Sok
Kim Yong Sil
Jang Kil Ryong
Pak Chol Ho
Jong Hyong Suk
Choe Ryon Hui
Ri Sang Won
Kim Min Nam
Kim Sung Hui
Song Kum Nam
Ri Yong Il
Jon Tong Ho
Rim Chun Nam
Yang Myong Chol
Kim Kwang Ho
An Mun Hak
Kim Kang Il
Ri Song Guk
Yun Bok Nam
Han Su Gyong
Kim Sang Uk
Yon Kyong Chol
Ju Hang Gon
Kang Yang Mo
Pak Chun Ho
Song Sung Chol
Choe Tong Myong
Kang Tok Chun
Ri Kil Chun
Kim Tuk Sam
Jang Ryong Sik
Ko Jang Guk
Kim Phyong Hae
Jang Chol Chun
Yun Chun Hwa
Ri Kwang Chol
Kim Yong Jae
Kim Han Il
Pak Kwang Ho
Ri Nam Son
Kim Kye Gwan
Choe Sung Ryong
Ro Ik
Im Jong Sil
Jang Jae Ryong
Rim Kyong Man
Jo Kyong Guk
Sin In Ok
Sin Tong Ho
Sin Yong Chol
Choe Yong Bo
Han Jong Su
Jo Jong Ho
Sin Tong Su

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Kim Jong Un receives a ballot before voting in elections for the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly at the Kim Ch’aek University of Science and Technology in central Pyongyang on March 10, 2019 (Photo: Korean Central TV)

Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n), last seen arriving home at three in the morning from Viet Nam, voted in the elections for the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly during the morning [KST] of March 10 (Sunday).  Also in attendance were Kim Chang Son (Kim Ch’ang-son), Jo Yong Won (Cho Yo’ng-wo’n).

Kim Jong Un’s limousine arrives at an SPA constituency in Pyongyang on March 10, 2019 (Photo: Korean Central TV).

Kim Ch’aek University of Science and Technology President Hong So Hon’s SPA candidate profile displayed at the polling place (Photo: Korean Central TV).

In contrast to prior SPA elections in which the Suryo’ng voted at the Kim Il Sung University of Politics (affiliated with the KPA General Political Bureau), Jong Un voted at the campus of the Kim Ch’aek University of Science and Technology for the university’s long time president Hong So Hon (Hong So’-hon).   He arrived in the late morning to the greetings of the university students and faculty “offering the highest glory and warmest greetings.”

Students of Kim Ch’aek University of Science and Technology cheer Kim Jong Un’s arrival to vote in SPA elections on March 10, 2019 (Photo: KCTV).

Poll workers await Kim Jong Un’s arrival to vote in elections for the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly in Pyongyang on March 10, 2019 (Photo: KCTV).

View of the venue at the Kim Ch’aek University of Science and Technology where KJU voted in SPA elections including ballot box, air diffuser and KIS and KJI portraits (Photo: KCTV).

Kim Jong Un talks with Hong So Hon and Ri Song Uk after voting in SPA elections (Photo: KCTV)

Jong Un acknowledged the greeting and headed off to vote.  After casting his ballot, he talked with Hong So Hon saying that the university “plays a very important role in all key sectors of socialist economic construction.”  Kim Jong Un asked Hong “to work well so that the university could fulfill its responsibility and obligation as the eldest son most trusted by the Party to make a breakthrough in improving science and education, invigorating the economy and bettering the standard of the people’s living and as a locomotive leading science, education and economic construction of the country.”

Kim Jong Un talks with KCUST President Hong So Hon (left) and KCUST WPK Committee Chairman Ri Song Uk (right) on March 10, 2019 (Photo: KCTV).

Kim Ch’aek University of Science and Technology President Hong So Hon, Personal Secretary deputy director Jo Yong Won and Kim Ch’aek University of Science and Technology WPK Committee Chairman Ri Song Uk (Photo: KCTV)

Kim Jong Un emphasized “once again the position and importance of the university in building a powerful socialist country” and indicated “the direction and ways for it to allow and conferred a benefit for the education of the university and modernization of its scientific equipment and IT.”

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WPK Vice Chairman and Director of the WPK United Front Department Kim Yong Chol arrives to vote at his polling place in central Pyongyang on March 10, 2019 (Photo: KCTV)

Senior DPRK Government and Workers’ Party of Korea [WPK] officials voted in elections for the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly [SPA] on March 10, 2019.  According to to KCNA the members of the central leadership “met candidates for deputies and voters to praise them for their patriotic devotion to the prosperity and development of the country and expressed belief that they would as ever fulfill their duty as citizens of the DPRK in the general advance for further consolidating the people’s power as firm as a rock and opening a new road of advance for socialist construction, regarding the out state first principle as their faith.”

Supreme People’s Assembly Presidium President Kim Yong Nam arrives at his polling place in the central party complex in Pyongyang on March 10, 2019 (Photo: KCTV).

WPK Vice Chairman and WPK Organization Guidance Department Director Choe Ryong Hae receives a ballot to vote in the 14th SPA elections on March 10, 2019 (Photo: KCTV).

DPRK Premier Pak Pong Ju pats his SPA deputy on the back prior to voting on March 10, 2019 (Photo: Korean Central TV).

SPA Presidium Vice President Yang Hyong Sop bows after receiving a ballot on March 10, 2019 (Photo: KCTV)

Yang Hyong Sop votes in elections for the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly on March 10, 2019 (Photo: KCTV)

WPK Vice Chairman and WPK International Affairs Department Director Ri Su Yong receives a ballot to vote in SPA elections on March 10, 2019 (Photo: KCTV).

WPK Vice Chairman and WPK Cadres’ Affairs Department Director Kim Phyong Hae arrives at a polling place to vote in SPA elections on March 10, 2019 (Photo: KCTV).

WPK Vice Chairman and WPK Light Industry Department Director An Jong Su after voting in SPA elections (Photo: KCTV)

WPK Vice Chairman Pak Thae Song votes in SPA elections (Photo: KCTV)

WPK Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol votes in elections for the 14th SPA (Photo: KCTV)

DPRK Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho votes in SPA elections on March 10, 2019 (Photo: Korean Central TV).

DPRK Vice Premier and State Planning Commission Chairman Ro Tu Chol talks with his SPA deputy after voting in elections (Photo: KCTV)

WPK Vice Chairman Choe Hwi receives a ballot to vote in SPA elections on March 10 2,019 (Photo: KCTV).

WPK Vice Chairman Pak Thae Dok votes in elections for the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly on March 10, 2019 (Photo: KCTV)

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Kim Yong Chol (background, left) stands behind Ko Yong Hui, KJI’s fourth wife and mother of Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong, at a concert. Also in attendance at this event were Gen. Pak Jae Gyong (background, 2nd left) and Jang Song Taek (background, right)

Why is Kim Yong Chol still Pyongyang’s Choice for U.S.-DPRK relations? 

by Sarah Vogler 

Kim Yong-Chol is on his way to Washington. Ever since North Korea’s shift to diplomatic rapprochement with South Korea and the United States in 2018, Kim Yong-chol has been one of the primary officials to represent Pyongyang. He will be meeting with Secretary of State Pompeo and possibly President Trump. He is to proffer Kim Jong-un’s official invitation to Trump for a second summit. This will be Kim’s second trip to D.C. in under a year. Kim visited the United States ahead of the first U.S.-DPRK summit in May 2018 and had lead roles in both Secretary Pompeo’s earlier trips to Pyongyang in July and October in 2018.  

Tolerated at first, there is a strong consensus in the United States that Kim Yong-chol’s continued role in U.S.-DPRK relations is counterproductive. His U.S. trip resulted in getting the first summit back on after a brief cancellation, but his handling of U.S.-DPRK relations has been inconsistent. His July meeting with Pompeo did not go well and Pompeo’s October trip was salvaged because Pompeo was able to meet with Kim Jong-un directly. During that round of meetings, Kim Yong-chol only attended the introductions and the post-meeting dinner. Kim Yo-jong acted as Kim Jong-un’s deputy for the substantive meeting with Pompeo. At that meeting, Kim Jong-un reportedly apologized to Pompeo for not having met him in July. Combined with Kim’s exclusion from the substantive parts of the engagement, Kim Jong-un may be admonishing his “right hand man” and contemplating a change of representative.  

Kim Yong Chol meets with Cuban leader Raul Castro in May 2016

The United States would certainly much rather deal with a different North Korean at this point. The inclusion of Kim in U.S.-DPRK relations has always been a somewhat polarizing choice. He is the director of the United Front Department (UFD), which is the department of the Central Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea that handles policy and relations with South Korea (and to an extent, China), though previous UFD directors have waded into North Korea’s U.S. policy. He has a long history of participating in inter-Korean military negotiations, but he is not a trained diplomat and there are other, much more seasoned diplomatic professionals in North Korea’s leadership circles, such as Director of the International Affairs Department Ri Su-yong, Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, and Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, that would be appropriate and perhaps more amenable to the United States.  

In addition to his credentials, Kim Yong-chol has long been a controversial character. He is the notorious North Korean “spy master” – a reputation that he seems to embrace. His former role as head of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB) links him to planning and execution of the deadly attack on the ROKS Cheonan in 2010, the 2014 Sony cyber hack, and to North Korea’s cyber capabilities, which have stolen millions of dollars from global financial institutions and harassed the ROK government. He is on sanctions lists in both the United States and South Korea.  

Kim Yong Chol (R) and Kim Kyong Hui (2nd R) attending the 3rd Party Conference in September 2010 (Photo: KCNA-Yonhap)

And yet, Kim Yong-chol is on his way. Why is Kim Yong-chol still taking a prominent role in engaging with the United States? What purpose does Kim Jong-un have for continuing to include Kim Yong-chol in sensitive negotiations, especially since his presence may antagonize rather than not? The simple answer is that Kim Jong-un still sees value in putting him forward to carry his message to the United States. It is important to understand what Kim Yong-chol does for Kim Jong-un.  

Kim Yong-chol’s rank in leadership circles and proximity to Kim Jong-un clearly give him some leeway for diplomatic missteps. Kim Yong-chol’s links to the Kim family go back several decades to when he served as a bodyguard for the Kim family. Kim Yong-chol’s ascent in North Korea’s leadership echelons has been closely tied to Kim Jong-un’s consolidation of power. His personal ties to Kim Jong-un go back to the early 2000s, when he oversaw Kim Jong-un’s military education at Kim Il-sung University.1 The Cheonan attack and Kim Jong-un’s association with the RGB were tied to securing military support for Kim’s succession of his father. He has risen to the status of full-member of the Political Bureau of the Worker’s Party (Politburo) and the Central Military Commission, as well as a member of the State Affairs Commission, the North Korean government’s supreme power and policymaking organization formed by Kim Jong-un in 2016. He has been a consistent presence in Kim’s inner circle of interlocutors who have direct access to Kim Jong-un and have the ability to contribute to his decision-making. 

Kim Yong-chol (1st from L) escorts KJI on an inspection of KPA Unit 586 (Photo: KCNA)

 In foreign relations, Kim Yong-chol is a clear embodiment of North Korea’s hardline, his presence and his demeanor are stark reminders of the not-so distant unpleasant state of relations with North Korea and of the actions North Korea can take to disrupt regional and international security. Kim Jong-un has used Kim Yong-chol’s reputation to underscore his diplomatic messaging to unambiguous effect. In inter-Korean relations, Kim Yong-chol is often “paired” with Kim Yo-jong. At the 2018 Olympics, Kim Yo-jong attended the opening ceremonies and was charming and interacted comfortably with South Korean officials. By contrast, Kim Yong-chol attended the closing ceremonies and introduced himself to journalists saying, “Hi. I’m the man you blame for sinking the Cheonan.” At subsequent inter-Korean summits, Kim Jong-un has sat with Kim Yo-jong to one side of him, and Kim Yong-chol on the other. The juxtaposition represents his South Korean counterparts’ choice: we can do this the easy way, or the hard way.  

Kim Jong-un is using the same signaling approach in his engagement with the United States. By using Kim Yong-chol, particularly in the early stages of U.S.-DPRK engagement, Kim Jong-un was indicating to the United States that while North Korea was willing to take a softer approach and negotiate, it still would be willing to show its teeth.  

Kim Jong Un stands in front of monument at the Chinese People’s Volunteers Cemetery in Hoech’ang, South P’yo’ngan. Also in attendance are Ri Yong Ho, Ri Su Yong, Kim Yong Chol and Gen. No Kwang Chol (Photo: KCTV/KCNA).

But Kim also fills an important internal requirement for Kim Jong-un. Any agreement or action that Kim Jong-un makes with regard to the United States will need to be marketed and sold to Pyongyang’s political elite, which includes Party cadres, state officials and, most importantly, military officials. The Foreign Ministry and North Korea’s diplomats do little to appeal to this latter constituency. Though he is no longer in uniform, Kim Yong-chol still represents the KPA and is one of the few “North Korean Generals” to continue play a prominent role at the highest levels of policy after the demotion of Hwang Pyong-so. Furthermore, with the KPA taking on a diminished public role from 2018 until the present, both for internal elite politicking and to compensate for this, Kim Jong-un needs Kim Yong-chol to help sell his policies to internal constituencies.  

Photo: Rodong Sinmun/DPRK Media/KCNA

This trip to Washington will be telling. If Kim Yong-chol is acting only as a messenger, combined with his exclusion from the October 2018 meeting between Kim Jong-un and Secretary Pompeo, it may indicate Kim Jong-un may be beginning to lay the groundwork for shifting Kim Yong-chol away from U.S.-DPRK relations. Kim is apparently joined in his trip to D.C. by Kim Song-hye and Choe Kang-il, both career diplomats. Kim Song-hye, in particular, is seen as a chief strategist within the UFD and potentially the one Kim Jong-un really trusts to get U.S.-DPRK relations back on track.   

If this is accurate, someone like Ri Su-yong and Ri Yong-ho, with more obvious diplomatic credentials, may begin to play more of a role in U.S.-DPRK relations, possibly after the second summit. But the United States should not interpret the replacement of Kim Yong-chol as a move to appeal to U.S. preferences. If Kim makes this choice, it will be because Kim Jong-un’s calculus will have changed and the internal situation in his regime has shifted such that he no longer needs to balance his softer approach with a man like Kim Yong-chol. 

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