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Michael Madden is an NK News Pro leadership specialist and the sole author and editor of the website NK Leadership Watch.
During 2013, Kim Jong Un’s entourage for his on-site visits has consisted of a number of names and faces unfamiliar to many Pyongyang watchers. One such official is Hong Yong Chil, deputy director of the Korean Workers Party Machine-Building Industry Department. Hong is a key official in the daily management of the country’s production of arms and military supplies. He also has ties to Ryonha Machine Management Bureau (a.k.a. part of the the Ryonha Machine Complex) which produces machines and machine tools linked to missile production. Based on his 24 reported appearances in DPRK state media in 2013, Hong appears linked to the production of both conventional and advanced weapons.
According to a study by the ROK Ministry of Unification, excerpted in a July 2013 article in Yonhap, Hong appears to be in his early 50s, making him a member of the Third Generation of Revolutionary Leadership, the demographically amorphous group (cadres range in age from their 30s to their 50s) which might also be called the Kim Jong Un Generation. His first significant mention in DPRK state media was in early 2011, when he was awarded the prestigious state title of Labor Hero. As the party’s chief secretary at the Unsan Tools Factory, Hong had a major role in the development of the Unsan Instruments Factory. He accompanied the late leader Kim Jong Il on a visit to the factory in February 2011.
Hong Yong Chil first surfaced as a KWP department deputy director in February 2013, when he accompanied Kim Jong Un on a pair of field inspections of KPA units, which included live-fire tactical exercises. The list of officials attending the military exercises with Kim consisted of a number of relatively obscure, second-tier party and security officials who have gone on to populate Kim’s retinue for his on-site visits. Hong’s position in the regime at that time was not clear, as his name was listed and called along with other KWP department deputy directors.
Clarity on his position and ties to weapons production came in March 2013 when he attended a meeting of “the Council of Functionaries in the Munitions Industry Sector.” Hong also accompanied Kim Jong Un on visits to a series of machine and tool factories that have been tied to the production and development of missiles during June and July 2013. Hong also appeared at Kim Jong Un’s inspections of new KPA warships in August and October 2013, at which the leader commanded the ships’ training maneuvers.
Hong’s reported appearances in 2013 are not restricted to military inspections or weapons production. Nine of his 24 appearances were to housing construction, historical sites, a consumer goods’ factories, a farm and a concert. Four of these appearances, however, had peripheral ties to the KPA or munitions industry. Two of these appearances were to the construction of the Unha Scientists Street, a residential complex for researchers and technicians involved in the country’s space and ballistic missile programs. Two of Hong’s other appearances involved KPA organizations, including attendance at a concert of the Merited State Choir and Kim Jong Un’s visit to a livestock farm.
ROK analysts have correlated Hong Yong Chil’s initial appearance as a central party cadre in February to the DPRK’s third nuclear test on February 12, 2013. The level of Hong’s involvement in the country’s development of nuclear weapons is not known. His current position provides him with a working knowledge of the program and its ongoing activities, and involves him to an unknown degree in the policymaking process.
Hong Yong Chil’s public appearances provide some circumstantial evidence of some working-level involvement in the nuclear weapons program. In June 2013 he visited the Kanggye General Tractor Plant in Jagang Province. This visit found Kim Jong Un inspecting a computer numerical control (CNC) flow-forming machine which a subsequent analysis said could be used in the domestic production of gas centrifuges to enrich uranium. Hong also attended Kim Jong Un’s visit to Taegwan County, one of a group of counties in North Pyongan Provinces where production and support units of the nuclear weapons and energy programs are located.
Even though Hong serves as a deputy director of the KWP Machine-Building Industry Department, his actual portfolio, daily responsibilities and role in the central party are not known. ROK analysts speculate that Hong could be a member or functionary for the Second Economy Commission (Second Economic Committee), which controls the network of industrial complexes and materials suppliers that manufacture weapons, vehicles and other military supplies. It is not clear whether Hong has a formal position within the SEC or if his ties to the SEC are informal and based on his position in the Machine-Building Industry Department.
Based on his public appearances and career history, Hong appears to be a party manager on the production and manufacturing side of the DPRK’s arms industry. As a party manager, Hong would be tasked with the formulation and implementation of certain weapons policies (production plans, development plans, manufacturing orders). It is not known at the present time whether Hong works in the Machine-Building Industry Department’s office in the KWP Central Committee Office Complex or if he works out of Kim Jong Un’s executive office. If he is based in Kim Jong Un’s executive office, this indicates that Hong has risen to become a close aide to the DPRK leader and enjoys some degree of personal access to and influence on the leader.
Hong is the second senior official in the DPRK’s munitions industry to see his public profile enhanced in 2013. The first official was Hong’s colleague and fellow deputy director of the Machine-Building Industry Department, Hong Sung Mu. An alternate member of the Party Central Committee, Hong Sung Mu was a key manager in the DPRK’s third nuclear test in February. Given Hong Yong Chil’s rapid ascent from a factory party secretary to a party department deputy director, and his appearances in DPRK state media, it appears the he (along with Hong Sung Mu and Second Academy of Natural Sciences President Choe Chun Sik) is being groomed for a more powerful leadership position in the DPRK’s munitions industry. Hong Yong Chil may eventually be promoted to department director, a member of the National Defense Commission or member of the KWP Secretariat, and might be the designated successor to current department director Ju Kyu Chang or KWP Secretary for Military and Machine-Building Industry Pak To Chun.
Pictures: Rodong Sinmun