WASHINGTON D.C. – Pak Pong Ju, a former Prime Minister and rumoured proponent of Chinese-style economic reforms, has been re-appointed to the position by North Korea’s parliament after being forced to step down in 2007.
Pak was first appointed as premier in 2003, taking over from Hong Song Nam, after North Korea passed modest economic reforms. It was believed at the time that he favored Chinese-style reforms, but what he ultimately passed was eventually rolled-back by 2005.
His appointment is likely to renew talk that North Korea will try and reform its economy.
“He is a very friendly and competent person. I met him in Pyongyang and, from my conversations with him, I’m convinced he will be good for the North Korean economy,” Felix Abt, author of A Capitalist in North Korea told NK NEWS.
Pak was removed from the position in 2007 for alleged misappropriation of funds, but returned to the public eye in August 2010 whereby he accompanied Kim Jong Il on a trip to China. He is said to be close to Jang Sung Taek and Kim Kyong Hui – Kim Jong Un’s aunt and uncle.
Pak will leave his current position as director of the Korean Worker’s Party Light Industry Department – he replaces regime stalwart Choe Yong Rim as premier, following his appointment to the Workers’ Party Politburo at a Central Committee plenum on Sunday.
There were a few other notable leadership moves at both the Central Committee plenum and Supreme People’s Assembly meeting. Choe Pu Il replaced Ri Myong Su as Minister of People’s Security and was named an alternate member of the Politburo. Paek Kye Ryong, formerly chief secretary of Kangwon province, replaced Pak as head of the Light Industry department. And both Hyon Yong Chol, the Chief of the KPA General Staff and Kim Kyok Sik, Minister of the People’s Armed Forces, were also named alternate members of the Politburo.
Interestingly, both Hyon and Kim appeared to receive demotions. Based on name order at official party events, they both appeared to be full members of the Politburo. Ri Myong Su, who was replaced as Minister of People’s Security, was also a full member of the Politburo, meaning Choe, his replacement, will have a lower spot as well. This may be a further indication of the party reasserting its power at the expense of the military and security apparatuses.
The Central Committee plenum was also notable for the return of Jang Song Thaek, who had not been seen in public since March 8th, and rumors emerged that Jang had been purged. His disappearance may have simply been related to the rise in recent tensions.