Update: Hwang and the other North Korean officials will meet with South Korea’s Presidential Security Adviser Kim Kwan-jin, according to the South’s Ministry of Unification.
Three high-ranking officials of North Korea’s ruling Worker’s Party of Korea and the military will attend the closing ceremonies of the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, on Saturday.
Hwang Pyong So, Choe Ryong Hae, and Kim Yang Gon departed the North on Saturday morning, the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported. They arrived at the South’s Incheon International Airport at about 9:52 a.m, via a specially chartered flight from Pyongyang.
This marks a rare visit to the South by such high-level North Korean officials. These three particular men are among of the most important and influential officials in Pyongyang. A visit to the South by such high-ranking and prominent North Korean officials could very likely be for the purpose of discussing important issues.
Hwang Pyong So is director of the Korean People’s Army General Political Bureau, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission and first deputy director of the WPK Organization and Guidance Department. Hwang is widely believed to be the de facto second-in-command of the North Korean regime and holds several of the most critically influential posts.
Choe Ryong Hae is currently WPK secretary for Workers’ Organization and chairman of the State Physical Culture and Sports Commission – a position formerly held by Kim Jong Un’s late uncle, Jang Song Taek. Choe was a vice chairman of the NDC until being replaced by Hwang this month and also preceded Hwang as director of the KPA General Political Bureau.
Kim Yang Gon is director of the United Front Department and a secretary of the WPK Central Committee. The United Front Department is the party organ responsible for relations with the South.
Michael Madden of North Korea Leadership Watch suggested that this visit – the first to the South “by senior DPRK officials in over five years” – is likely to be significant and was likely planned by Pyongyang some time ago.
Madden told NK News, “It’s probably no accident he (Hwang) was appointed formally as NDC Vice Chairman before the trip.” He continued, “The announcement on (the) SPA meeting that demonstratively confirmed Hwang on the NDC was publicized on September 5, meaning a decision to send Hwang to the games was probably reached in late August or early September. This is around the time of KJU’s last reported appearances.”
This visit also comes amidst North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un’s ongoing extended absence from public view. The North’s own state media acknowledged that Kim has been having health problems.
Photo: R. Cunningham
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