North Korean leadership activity in July primarily focused on a few major events and the majority were in the political sector. Several events in late July were related to the 62nd anniversary of the 1953 Korean War armistice on July 27, known in the North as Victory Day. In addition to the Victory Day observances, North Korea held local-level elections on July 19, which provided the regime its first opportunity for large-scale changes in lower-level assemblies since Kim Jong Un’s ascension in December 2011. These events, along with a meeting of all DPRK ambassadors in Pyongyang, have provided the Pyongyang regime with more opportunities both to propagandize and reinforce loyalty to the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea throughout the North Korean government and political system.
KIM’S ACTIVITY IN JULY
Twelve of Kim’s 14 appearances in July were in Pyongyang, the two remaining appearance being in Wonsan, Kangwon Province, and Sinchon, South Hwanghae Province. Eight (57 percent) of his appearances were political in nature. Four were economic and four were military (three of which were also categorized as political).
*D=diplomatic E=economic, M=military, P=political, O=other
North Korea held the first local-level elections under the rule of Kim Jong Un on July 19. First announced in early June, the elections were for deputies to provincial, city and county people’s assemblies and, since 1999, have been held every four years. These were the first local-level elections under Kim Jong Un and second elections overall since he succeeded his father as Supreme Leader in December 2011. The last North Korean elections were the Supreme People’s Assembly elections of March 2014.
Local-level elections in North Korea are much like national-level elections with the difference being that, while national elections determine membership in the Supreme People’s Assembly, local elections determine membership of people’s assemblies at the province, city and county levels. These assemblies are the local-level analogs to the SPA. Much like the SPA is dominated by the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea and most it’s decisions are predetermined by the Party, the same is true of these lower-level assemblies. Each province, city and county, in addition to having a people’s assembly, has a party committee as well. Like the national elections, the WPK and its allied parties – the Chondoist Chongu Party and the Korean Social Democratic Party – will, through the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, select a single candidate for each assembly seat and voters will only have the option to vote for or against that candidate. Voting against a candidate would, of course, lead to negative consequences for the voter.
Election committees, which were formed in June, concluded candidate nominations on July 15 and continued other preparations through July 18. The elections were held as scheduled on July 19. State media, citing the Central Election Guidance Committee, reported that 99.97 percent of voters participated in the elections and that “only those on foreign tour or working in oceans could not take part in the elections.” Kim Jong Un himself participated, voting for members of both the Pyongyang City People’s Assembly and the Sosong District (a district within Pyongyang) People’s Assembly. These elections have provided the regime with its opportunity for a large scale rotation of officials at the provincial, county, city and district levels since Kim Jong Un came to power and the regime leadership has seen significant changes. Changes have likely been made in the local-level people’s assemblies which will increase loyalty to the current regime leadership.
VICTORY DAY EVENTS
North Korea observed the 62nd anniversary of the signing of the Korean War armistice on July 27, 1953, referred to in North Korea as Victory Day. Several different events and observances were held in relation to the anniversary.
On July 25, North Korea convened the 4th National Conference of Veterans in Pyongyang. The conference was attended by North Korean veterans of the Korean War, known is the North as the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War, and celebrated their service.
On July 26, the new Sinchon Museum opened, replacing the old, smaller Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities, in Sinchon County, South Hwanghae Province (not be confused with the neighborhood of Sinchon-dong in Seoul, South Korea). The museum is dedicated to the Sinchon Massacre which, according to North Korean sources, was the massacre of 35,000 civilians by the United States military from October to December 1950, during the Korean War. Choe Ryong Hae and Ryom Chol Song attended the opening of the new museum. Kim Jong Un visited a few days prior to inspect the newly-built museum. The timing of the opening of the new Sinchon Museum was very likely timed to be close to Victory Day.
The list of elites accompanying Kim to Kumsusan is generally a good indicator of those who are currently ranked highly within the regime
Kim Jong Un made a ceremonial visit to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on July 27 – Victory Day – accompanied by military officers including Hwang Pyong So, Pak Yong Sik, Kim Won Hong, So Hong Chan, No Kwang Chol, Jo Nam Jin, and Ryom Chol Song. The list of elites accompanying Kim to Kumsusan is generally a good indicator of those who are currently ranked highly within the regime. Later the same day Kim visited the Fatherland Liberation War Martyrs Cemetery, also in Pyongyang, accompanied by the same officials listed above with the exception of No Kwang Chol.
Among the events related to North’s Victory Day celebrations was an aeronautics contest by the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force held at the Kalma Aiport in Wonsan (a.k.a. Wonsan International Airport), likely on July 28. In addition to being a demonstration of the North’s air force and a general military ceremony for the armistice anniversary, the event marked both the first known active use of the airport since its renovation and the first acknowledgement of that renovation in the North’s state-run media. The ceremony served to demonstrate and highlight several different points for general propaganda purposes. The aeronautics contest itself demonstrates the North’s military, specifically the air force, which has been increasingly emphasized under Kim Jong Un’s reign. The opening ceremonies included a show of anti-American sentiment – soldiers marching on and then destroying a United States flag – and highlighted several significant dates, including July 27 (Victory Day), April 25 (Military Foundation Day), August 25 (Songun Day), and October 10 (Party Foundation Day).
ELITE APPEARANCES & CHANGES
For the fifth consecutive month, Hwang Pyong So made the most appearances alongside Kim Jong Un, accompanying him 11 times in July. Minister of the People’s Armed Forces Pak Yong Sik, First Deputy Director Ri Jae Il of the WPK Propaganda & Agitation Department and Chief of the KPA General Staff Ri Yong Gil were all tied for the second most appearances with Kim, each accompanying him six times.
North Korean state media finally confirmed Pak Yong Sik’s status as minister of the People’s Armed Forces by directly referring to him with that title in a July 11 report on talks between the North Korean military and a military delegation from Laos.
No Kwang Chol, a colonel general in the KPA, has replaced So Hong Chan as first vice minister of the People’s Armed Forces, a state media report on a Lao military delegation revealed July 12. So Hong Chan continues to be mentioned in state media and to make appearances with Kim Jong Un, though it is unknown what his new position is.
The SPA appointed Kim Hyong Gil as DPRK ambassador to Mexico, state media reported July 29. Kim’s predecessor, An Kun Song, served as ambassador to Mexico since February 2010. He also concurrently served as non-resident ambassador to Guatemala and special envoy to Nicaragua, roles which Kim will likely take over as well.
On July 10, accompanying Kim Jong Un to the Pyongyang Taegyong Laver Processing Factory, Jon Il Chun made his first state media appearance since December 31, 2013, when he appeared with Kim at the Masikryong Ski Resort. Jon is first deputy director of the WPK Finance & Accounting Department and section chief in Office #39, making him an important official in securing and managing finances for the Kim family.
Two officials, Pak Kyong Suk and Ri Yong Suk, made their first publicized appearances alongside Kim Jong Un. Both attended the 4th National Conference of Veterans held to mark the 62nd anniversary of the Korean War armistice of July 27, 1953. Only the Korean language versions of the state media reports, however, mentioned these officials (as well as others). Only the top three officials after Kim Jong Un – Hwang Pyong So, Pak Yong Sik and Ri Yong Gil – were mentioned in the English language reports on the event.
There were at least three deaths of North Korean elites in July, the most well-known being Kang Nung Su. State media reported that Kim Jong Un sent a wreath to the bier of the recently deceased Kang but did not report the exact date of his death. Two other elites also died sometime in July. Ju Chang Jun was a former DPRK ambassador to China and Jong Chun Sil was a former SPA member and director of the Jonchon County Commercial Agency.
KIM PYONG IL IN PYONGYANG
In mid-July, North Korea convened the 43rd meeting of ambassadors of the DPRK in Pyongyang. Kim Jong Un had a photo session with the ambassadors, reported in state media on July 15. North Koran ambassadors from around the world returned to Pyongyang to attend a meeting which was focused on the ambassadors learning to implement “the foreign policy of the WPK.” This shows that the regime is continually working to ensure the policies and guidance of the ruling Party are preeminent in all fields. In addition to the ambassadors “officials in the field of external affairs” also attended the event. This likely refers to Party officials who deal with foreign relations. Additionally, having ambassadors return to Pyongyang at once reinforces the control of the central government and curbs any independent-mindedness that may develop in some ambassadors who spend a long time overseas as the chief North Korean official in a given country with no direct supervision. DPRK Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Su Yong and Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Kye Gwan – who are in charge of overseeing DPRK diplomats – accompanied Kim during his photo session.
Kim (Pyong Il)’s long diplomatic career is seen as a way to effectively exile him in Europe
Among the ambassadors present – though never mentioned by state media – at the event was Kim Pyong Il (also spelled Kim Phyong Il), the younger half-brother of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and uncle of current leader Kim Jong Un. Kim Pyong Il has spent the last 36 years serving overseas as a diplomat. In February he became the new DPRK ambassador the Czech Republic after having served in Poland since 1998. Kim’s long diplomatic career is seen as a way to effectively exile him in Europe, keeping him and his children out of North Korea and preventing from becoming potential rival claimants to the North Korean leadership.
While Kim’s attendance at an event in Pyongyang may seem counterproductive to his effective exile, he appears to have been treated somewhat routinely as just another ambassador. A source in China speaking to Daily NK said that since Kim Jong Un did not acknowledge him as his uncle but simply treated him as “a mere ambassador” it reinforces the idea that Kim Pyong Il is no more significant than any other diplomat. Having intentionally excluded Kim while inviting the other ambassadors, however, could have brought Kim to people’s attention even more.
August 15 will be the 70th anniversary of the 1945 surrender of Japan to the allies in World War II, bringing an end to the war as well as the 35-year Japanese occupation of Korea. The date is celebrated as a holiday in both Koreas. It is known in the North as Fatherland Liberation Day and in the South as National Liberation Day or – in a literal translation of the Korean name – “Restoration of Light Day.”
October 10 will be the 70th anniversary – per official North Korean dating – of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the ruling political party of the North. While in reality the WPK formed through a gradual evolution and merging of multiple Korean Communist organizations, North Korea officially considers founding meeting of the North Korea Bureau of the Communist Party of Korea – held on October 10, 1955, according to North Korean sources – as the founding date of the WPK.
For months, North Korea’s state-run media has made reference to these two upcoming dates on an almost daily basis. North Korea typically puts significant effort into commemorating major anniversaries and frequently attempts to achieve some sort of demonstration of the country’s strength. In 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, North Korea launched the Kwangmyongsong-3 Unit-2 satellite into orbit on the Unha-3 Unit-2 rocket on December 12, following an earlier failed attempt on April 13, two days before Kim Il Sung’s birthday. Recently, North Korean officials have spoken of the country’s right to conduct space launches and satellite imagery revealed that North Korea has upgraded the rocket launch pad at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, possibly in preparation for a space launch planned for this year.
FULL ELITE BREAKDOWN FOR JULY
|Kim Jong Un||Supreme Leader||14||100%|
|Hwang Pyong So||Director, KPA General Political Bureau; Vice Chairman, NDC; First Deputy Director, WPK Organization and Guidance Depatment||11||79%|
|Pak Yong Sik||Minister of the People’s Armed Forces||6||43%|
|Ri Jae Il||First Deputy Director, WPK Propaganda & Agitation Department||6||43%|
|Ri Yong Gil||Chief of the KPA General Staff||6||43%|
|So Hong Chan||Colonel General, KPA||5||36%|
|Kim Yo Jong||Deputy Director, WPK Propaganda & Agitation Department||4||29%|
|Ryom Chol Song||Deputy Director, KPA General Political Bureau||4||29%|
|Jo Nam Jin||Unknown||3||21%|
|Jo Yong Won||Deputy Department Director, WPK Central Committee||3||21%|
|Kim Won Hong||Minister, Ministry of State Security||3||21%|
|Choe Yong Rim||Honorary Vice President, SPA Presidium||2||14%|
|Hwang Sun Hui||Director, Chosun Revolutionary Museum||2||14%|
|Kim Chol Man||Member, WPK Central Committee||2||14%|
|No Kwang Chol||First Vice Minister, Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces||2||14%|
|O Kuk Ryol||Director, WPK Operations Department||2||14%|
|Pak Kyong Suk||Unknown||2||14%|
|Pak Pong Ju||Premier of the DPRK||2||14%|
|Ri Ul Sol||Member, WPK Central Committee; Marshal, KPA||2||14%|
|Ri Yong Mu||Vice Chairman, National Defense Commission; Vice Marshal, KPA||2||14%|
|Ri Yong Suk||Unknown||2||14%|
|Thae Jong Su||Member, SPA Presidium; Chief Secretary, South Hamgyong Provincial Committee of the WPK||2||14%|
|Yang Hyong Sop||Vice President, SPA Presidium||2||14%|
|Choe Yong Ho||Commander, KPA Air and Anti-Air Force||1||7%|
|Jo Kyong Chol||Commander, Military Security Command||1||7%|
|Jon Il Chun||First Deputy Director, WPK Finance & Accounting Department; Section Chief, Office #39||1||7%|
|Kim Jong Gwan||Vice Minister, Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces||1||7%|
|Kim Ki Nam||Secretary and Director, WPK Propaganda & Agitation Department||1||7%|
|Kim Kye Gwan||First Vice Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs||1||7%|
|Kim Rak Gyom||Commander, KPA Strategic Rocket Force Command||1||7%|
|Kim Yang Gon||Director, United Front Department||1||7%|
|Kim Yong Chol||Director, Reconnaissance General Bureau||1||7%|
|O Kum Chol||Vice Chief, KPA General Staff||1||7%|
|Ri Su Yong||Minister, Minstry of Foreign Affairs||1||7%|
|Ri Yong Ju||Commander, KPA Navy||1||7%|
Note: Numbers represent only appearances with Kim Jong Un and with the name listed by state media. Elites may make other unmentioned appearances and/or appearances without Kim Jong Un, which are not reflected in this table, though may be covered by the analysis. See the NK Leadership Tracker Methodology page for more information.
Featured image: KCNA
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