September saw an increase in Kim Jong Un’s appearances related to economics and a decrease in military events. The Pyongyang regime appears to be placing emphasis on attending to internal matters and responding to domestic issues relating to the well-being of the people in order to demonstrate the efficacy of the government, especially the in the wake of a damaging flood in the northeastern city of Rason.
Additionally, in a rather rare diplomatic event, Kim Jong Un met with a state delegation from Cuba. Considering this and Kim’s meeting with a Chinese delegation in early October – and Liu Yunshan being at Kim’s side during the parade on October 10 – it appears that Kim may now be devoting more attention personally to diplomatic concerns.
KIM’S ACTIVITY IN SEPTEMBER
Kim Jong Un made a total of 10 public appearances in the month of September. Kim Jong Un made no visits to military units or appearances at any ceremonies or other events that were directly related to the KPA. The only two Kim appearances in September which could be considered military-related were more arms industry-related.
Conversely, Kim made six appearances which were economic in nature. Additional, Kim made two somewhat rare appearances at diplomatic functions, meeting with Cuban delegation and then attending a performance of an art squad together with that same delegation.
|Date (state media)||Event||Sector||Province||County / City|
|9/1/2015||Kim Jong Un Visits New Pyongyang Corn Processing Factory||E||Pyongyang||Pyongyang|
|9/4/2015||Kim Jong Un Visits Sinuiju Measuring Instrument Factory||M||North Phyongan||Sinuiju|
|9/8/2015||Kim Jong Un Receives Cuban State Delegation||D||Pyongyang||Pyongyang|
|9/8/2015||Kim Jong Un Enjoys Art Performance Together with State Delegation of Cuba||D/A||Pyongyang||Pyongyang|
|9/10/2015||Kim Jong Un Enjoys Performance of Art Squad||A||Pyongyang||Pyongyang|
|9/14/2015||Kim Jong Un Gives Field Guidance to Construction Site of Paektusan Hero Youth Power Station Near Completion||E/P||Ryanggang|
|9/18/2015||Kim Jong Un Gives Field Guidance to Drive for Recovery from Flood That Hit Rason City||E/P||Rason||Rason City|
|9/22/2015||Kim Jong Un Tours Commodity Show Presented by Munitions Industry||M/E||Not specified|
|9/25/2015||Kim Jong Un Visits Newly-built Changgwang Shop||E||Pyongyang||Pyongyang|
|9/28/2015||Kim Jong Un Goes round Combined Service Boat Mujigae||E||Pyongyang||Pyongyang|
… the regime in Pyongyang may have felt a need to demonstrate that it is working for the good of the people
The increased emphasis on economic matters, especially Kim’s visit to Rason as well as to newly built factories, shops and a power plant, and the decreased attention to military affairs may be a result of the events of August, including the heightened inter-Korean military tensions and negotiations and the flooding in North Korea’s northeastern city of Rason. Following the flood damage in particular, the regime in Pyongyang may have felt a need to demonstrate that it is working for the good of the people and is responsibly managing internal affairs.
Three of Kim’s economic related appearances seemed to focus particularly on the comfort of the North Korean people. While visiting a commodity show from the munitions industry (which interesting displayed everyday household items as opposed to weaponry) and the newly-built Changgwang Shop in Mirae Scientists Street, Kim is reported to have instructed workers on the purpose of the shop as “understand(ing) … what kinds of goods the people like and demand,” emphasizing the importance of providing for the everyday demands of the citizens. Additionally, during his tour of the Mujigae (“Rainbow”), a newly designed service boat in Pyongyang, Kim also stressed the importance of “highly civilized and affluent life” style opportunities for North Koreans. Kim’s apparent emphasis on providing for the economic demands of the people (the last five events in September all focused on economics in one form or another) could be due in part to the then-upcoming October 10 anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
APPEARANCES & POSITION CHANGES
The two officials who made the most appearances with Kim Jong Un in September were Jo Yong Won, a deputy department director in the WPK, and Kim Yang Gon, director of the WPK United Front Department, making seven appearances each. Closely following Jo and Kim in September’s rankings was Choe Ryong Hae, WPK secretary for Workers’ Organization, who made a total of six appearances alongside Kim Jong Un.
This is the second straight month that someone other than Hwang Pyong So has made accompanied Kim the most after Hwang topped the rankings (or at least tied for the top) for nine consecutive months from November 2014 through July 2015. In August, O Su Yong made four appearances with Kim, twice as many as Hwang (who tied with Choe Ryong Hae, Jo Yong Won, and others). In September, Hwang appeared only four times alongside Kim, tying with Hong Yong Chil and Ri Il Hwan.
It is uncertain if this a reflection of any change in standing or status for Hwang personally or simply a matter of circumstances affecting his appearance rate. During the months in which Hwang made the most appearances, military and/or political events typically made up high proportions of Kim’s agenda. In the past two months, however, the time Kim is publicly devoting to these sectors has decreased while economic concerns appear to be on the rise.
The only known position change in September was for an overseas diplomatic post. The Supreme People’s Assembly officially appointed Cha Kon Il as the new DPRK ambassador to Bulgaria. Cha replaces Ju Wang Hwan, who held the post since July 2011. While based out of the DPRK embassy in Bulgaria, Ju also served concurrently as ambassador to Turkey, where North Korea has diplomatic representation but no physical embassy. Cha will likely succeed Ju in this role as well. Little is known about Cha, as he has not previously been mentioned in the North’s state-run media.
In September, Kim Jong Un had a rare official meeting with a state delegation from Cuba followed by an art squad performance which he attended with the same delegation. This is only the second time meeting between Kim and an official state delegation (i.e. excluding meetings with private citizens visiting from abroad, such as Dennis Rodman) was reported by Pyongyang’s state media. The first was Kim’s meeting with heads of delegations from nine separate countries, including China and Cuba, in July 2013.
So far during Kim’s reign as Supreme Leader of North Korea, he has made few recorded meetings with foreign delegations and has yet to meet with any foreign head of state, including Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, who visited Pyongyang in October 2013. Despite the North’s long alliance with China, Kim Jong Un as yet to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, either in China or North Korea, since Xi took office. Important officials, including official delegations, instead frequently meet Kim Yong Nam – the nominal North Korean head-of-state – and Premier Pak Pong Ju.
Both Kim and the leader of the Cuban delegation spoke of the brotherhood and strong relations between North Korea and Cuba. This comes not long after a recent thawing of relations between Cuba and the United States, North Korea’s greatest rival.
The fact that Cuba, long an ally of Pyongyang, was willing to send an official delegation to North Korea even after a rapprochement with the U.S. may be the reason Kim personally met with their delegation. Cuba has previously indicated that the rapprochement with the U.S. would not impact their other foreign relations, including those with North Korea. The North Korean regime appears to be working to maintain strong ties with Cuba despite the change in U.S.-Cuba relations.
FULL ELITE BREAKDOWN FOR SEPTEMBER
|Kim Jong Un||Supreme Leader||10||100%|
|Jo Yong Won||Deputy Department Director, WPK Central Committee||7||70%|
|Kim Yang Gon||Director, United Front Department||7||70%|
|Choe Ryong Hae||Secretary (Worker’s Organizations), WPK Central Committee; Chairman, State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission||6||60%|
|Hong Yong Chil||Deputy Director, WPK Machine-Building Industry Department||4||40%|
|Hwang Pyong So||Director, KPA General Political Bureau; Vice Chairman, NDC; First Deputy Director, WPK Organization and Guidance Depatment||4||40%|
|Ri Il Hwan||Department Director, WPK Central Committee||4||40%|
|Kim Yo Jong||Deputy Director, WPK Propaganda & Agitation Department||3||30%|
|Jo Chun Ryong||Chairman, Second Economic Committee||2||20%|
|Kim Chun Sop||Member, National Defense Commission||2||20%|
|Kim Ki Nam||Secretary and Director, WPK Propaganda & Agitation Department||2||20%|
|Pak Yong Sik||Minister of the People’s Armed Forces||2||20%|
|Jon Yong Nam||Chairman, Central Committee of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League||1||10%|
|Jong Sung Il||Unknown||1||10%|
|Kang Phyo Yong||Vice Minister of the People’s Armed Forces||1||10%|
|Kim Kye Gwan||First Vice Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs||1||10%|
|O Su Yong||Secretary (Light Industry), WPK Central Committee; Chief Secretary of the North Hamgyong Provincial Committee of the WPK||1||10%|
|Pak Pong Ju||Premier of the DPRK||1||10%|
|Ri Sol Ju||Wife of the Supreme Leader||1||10%|
|Ri Su Yong||Minister, Minstry of Foreign Affairs||1||10%|
|Ri Yong Gil||Chief of the KPA General Staff||1||10%|
|Ryom Chol Song||Deputy Director, KPA General Political Bureau||1||10%|
|Yun Tong Hyon||Vice Minister of the People’s Armed Forces||1||10%|
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.
Kayla Orta contributed to this report.
Featured image: Kim Jong Un at the Songun Youth Power Station | Photo: KCNA
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