Less than four months after being awarded the title of “Vice Marshal”, Hyon Yong Chol, the Chief of the Army General Staff, appears to have been demoted to a four-star general (See picture below). This comes soon after a North Korean soldier apparently killed two of his senior officers and fled across the DMZ. The fact that he was able to do so undetected has set off a great deal of controversy within South Korea.
The defection has also raised the ire of the North Korean leadership. Both Chosun Ilbo and Yonhap believe Hyon’s demotion is related to the defection, especially because the unit the soldier defected from is directly under the General Staff’s command. Units on the front lines are carefully picked because of their location, making defections very rare (the last was in March 2010).
However, Hyon’s position is not at risk, at least for now. The move is similar to what happened in 2010 to Kim Myong Guk, Director of the KPA General Staff Operations Department, when he was demoted to a three-star general for an unknown reason. He remained at a three-star level for a few months but eventually became a four-star general again.
If anything, the move seems to indicate that Kim Jong Un has learned quite well from his grandfather and father, both of whom frequently used demotions as a managerial device. The transgression in question is not a fireable offense per se, but there need to be consequences. Hyon can be expected to work at Chollima speed (i.e. with extra enthusiasm) to make it up to Kim.
Main picture Credit: KCTV