The month of October 2015 for the North Korean regime’s senior leadership was dominated by emphasis on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea as well as a continuing focus on economic projects such as science and technology development.
For several days, the regime was focused exclusively on the October 10 anniversary of the founding of the WPK, known as Party Foundation Day. Emphasizing such a date is important for the North Korean regime in reinforcing the dominant role of the ruling party. At other times in the month, Pyongyang was particularly attentive toward the completion of several economic projects such as a new dam, a rebuilt village and science-related facilities. The economic side helps the regime in demonstrating its role as a provider for the nation and people and leader of economic as well as technical development. The political side, meanwhile, emphasizes the role of the ruling party as the not only the political builders of North Korea, but the military leaders protecting the nation from enemies. Thus, October’s leadership activity largely served the regime’s efforts to reinforce domestic perceptions of its legitimacy.
KIM’S ACTIVITY IN OCTOBER
Kim Jong Un made a total of 20 appearances in October. This is the most appearances he has made in one month since the spring and early summer of 2014, when he made 19 appearances in April, May and June with a spike in July 2014 at 25 appearances. This is also a considerable increase from Kim’s 10 appearances in September.
This is the most appearances he has made in one month since the spring and early summer of 2014
The increased number of appearances by Kim can be partially attributed to Kim’s attendance at multiple, related events on the same day or within a few days of one another. There were five dates in October (5, 10, 11, 14 and 19) on which two or more appearances by Kim were reported by Pyongyang’s state-run media. Additionally, numerous appearances by Kim were related to the same events, including the three events in Ryangyang Province reported on October 5 as a result of the completion of the Paektusan Hero Youth Power Station there and six events from October 10 through 14 related to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
WPK 70TH ANNIVERSARY
The dominant event within North Korea in October was the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea, which took place on October 10, also known as Party Foundation Day. The anniversary marks the date in 1954 on which the Conference of Korean Communist Party Members and Enthusiasts in the Five Northwestern Provinces began in Pyongyang, which resulted in the establishment of the North Korea Bureau of the Communist Party of Korea on October 13. This was the beginning of a distinct North-focused communist Korean organization separate from the Seoul-based Communists and dominated by the Communist factions which had operated in the Soviet Union and China, especially Kim Il Sung and his anti-Japanese guerrilla force. Thus, the anniversaries commemorates the establishment of the current ruling WPK as the dominant organization in North Korean politics.
At least seven appearances of Kim Jong Un, in addition to numerous other events, were related directly to Party Foundation Day. The first of these was a diplomatic event and one of the few times Kim Jong Un has publicly met with an official delegation from a foreign government. A delegation of the Communist Party of China led by Secretary of the Central Secretariat Liu Yunshan visited Pyongyang, reportedly on “an official goodwill visit to the DPRK on the occasion of the 70th founding anniversary of the (WPK).” Liu also appeared with Kim in the reviewing stand in Kim Il Sung Square during the military parade on October 10. This could be a sign of warming ties between Pyongyang and Beijing, which previously appeared to have declined in the aftermath of the 2013 purge of Jang Song Taek and his associates.
Other events before the parade included the customary official visit of Kim and other senior officials to Kumsusan Palace of the Sun at midnight on the day itself (October 10) and a torchlight procession of youth attended by Kim and other North Korean officials as well as delegates from nations such as China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam. The parade itself was broadcast by Korean Central Television as well as reported in written publications of state media and demonstrated some military equipment that had not been shown previously in parades but generally was consistent with North Korean rhetoric and policy regarding its military position and the importance of the WPK as the military leadership of North Korea in addition to the political leadership.
CONTINUED ECONOMIC EMPHASIS
The month of September saw an increase in the North Korean leadership’s focus on economic affairs and this trend continued through October. Nine out of Kim’s 20 appearances in the month were economic in nature. There appear to be two driving forces behind this increased emphasis on economic affairs: a demonstration of the regime’s ability to provide for the country and respond to local problems; and a continuing North Korean concern for development of science, technology and industry.
It is critical for any government … to respond to crises and disasters in an effective and timely manner in order to prevent mass dissatisfaction
Kim’s visit to the village of Paekhak-dong in Rason City’s Sonbong District, described by state media on October 8 as “a village newly built as a fairyland of miracle,” was a part of the regime’s continued response to the damaging floods which occurred in the northeastern city of Rason in September. It is critical for any government – regardless of the level of authoritarianism and internal control – to respond to crises and disasters in an effective and timely manner in order to prevent mass dissatisfaction with the government.
Meanwhile, Pyongyang has continued to place a priority on development of the nation’s science and technology as well as industrial sectors. During the month of October, both the Mirae Scientists Street – a new complex of apartment buildings for scientists along the Taedong River in Pyongyang – and the Sci-Tech Complex – an atom-shaped hub of science- and technology-related information – were completed In reporting on these events, the North’s state-run media noted “the validity and vitality of the policy of the WPK which has been constantly directing big efforts to the development of science and technology,” as well as “the need to steadily increase substantial investment in the scientific researches.”
MA WON CHUN REAPPEARS
North Korea’s senior architect Ma Won Chun reappeared in October after an 11-month absence and rumors that he had been purged. Ma appeared alongside Kim during his visit to the newly rebuilt (after the flooding of the Rason area) village of Paekhak-dong, reported by state media on October 8.
Prior to October 8, Ma was last seen on November 1 when Kim inspected the construction of a new terminal at Pyongyang International Airport. Kim publicly expressed his dissatisfaction with the progress of this construction project and Ma – who was believed to be responsible for the project as director of the Designing Department of the National Defense Commission – was subsequently not seen for 11 months.
Ma appeared twice more in October, first during Kim’s tour of the completed Mirae Scientists Street in Pyongyang, reported October 21, and again at Kim’s inspection of the completed Sci-Tech Complex on Ssuk Islet in Pyongyang, reported October 28. All three of Ma’s October appearances were visits to recently finished construction projects, indicating that Ma continues to work in the architecture and building industry and may still hold his previous post as director of the Designing Department of the NDC, though this has yet to be conclusively confirmed.
What is clear, though, is that Ma’s standing among the Pyongyang elites has fallen. In all three of his October appearances, Ma was the final person named by state media, which is a reflection of a North Korean elite’s position in the hierarchy. Additionally, Ma has formally been demoted in his rank in the Korean People’s Army. Ma held the rank of lieutenant general (two stars) from May 2014 through at least November 2014. Prior to May 2014, Ma had never been shown in uniform or referenced by military rank or title, indicating that his military post is primarily a political appointment and not a result of his having risen through the ranks of the KPA. In October 2015, though, Ma wore the single star of a major general.
Ma’s 11-month absence, his reappearance, and his reduction in rank and standing indicate that he likely was undergoing some type of reeducation and perhaps even punishment as a result of a the perceived failures in the Pyongyang International Airport project. His immediate disappearance and the publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the project show that the senior leadership in Pyongyang are determined to maintain and demonstrate the authority of Kim Jong Un and reinforce loyalty and compliance. On the other hand, the fact that Ma was not executed and was eventually brought back into active working near Kim – albeit with a demotion – shows that the regime no longer wishes to have elites living in fear of execution and would prefer to keep senior officials alive. This helps not only to retain experienced and skilled individuals who may be critical, but also creates a more stable regime seen as more fairly treating its top officials (the regime’s treatment of the lower classes of people notwithstanding).
FULL ELITE BREAKDOWN FOR OCTOBER
|Kim Jong Un||Supreme Leader||20||100%|
|Kim Yang Gon||Secretary of the WPK Central Committee||10||50%|
|Hwang Pyong So||Director, KPA General Political Bureau; Vice Chairman, NDC; First Deputy Director, WPK Organization and Guidance Depatment||9||45%|
|Kim Ki Nam||Secretary and Director, WPK Propaganda & Agitation Department||8||40%|
|O Su Yong||Secretary of the WPK Central Committee||8||40%|
|Jo Yong Won||Vice Department Director of the WPK Central Committee||7||35%|
|Choe Ryong Hae||Secretary (Worker’s Organizations), WPK Central Committee; Chairman, State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission||6||30%|
|Pak Pong Ju||Premier of the Cabinet||4||20%|
|Choe Thae Bok||Chairman of the SPA; Secretary (Education), WPK Central Committee; Director, WPK Science and Education Department||3||15%|
|Kim Phyong Hae||Secretary of the WPK Central Committee||3||15%|
|Kwak Pom Gi||Director, WPK Finance and Planning Department||3||15%|
|Ma Won Chun||Director of the Designing Department of the National Defense Commission||3||15%|
|Jon Yong Nam||Chairman of the Central Committee of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League||2||10%|
|Kim Yo Jong||Deputy Director, WPK Propaganda & Agitation Department||2||10%|
|Kim Yong Nam||President of the Presidium of the SPA||2||10%|
|Pak Yong Sik||Minister of the People’s Armed Forces||2||10%|
|Ri Il Hwan||Department Director of the C.C., the WPK||2||10%|
|Ri Sang Won||Chief Secretary of the Ryanggang Provincial Committee, WPK||2||10%|
|Ri Sol Ju||Wife of Supreme Leader||2||10%|
|Jang Hyok||Minister of Railways||1||5%|
|Kang Jong Gwan||Minister of Land and Maritime Transport||1||5%|
|Kang Phyo Yong||Vice Minister of the People’s Armed Forces||1||5%|
|Kim Yong Gwang||Minister of Metallurgical Industry||1||5%|
|Kim Yong Ho||Secretary of the General Cabniet||1||5%|
|Kim Yong Jin||Honorary Vice President of the SPA||1||5%|
|O Kum Chol||Vice Chief of the KPA General Staff||1||5%|
|Ri Jong Guk||Mnister of Machine-building Industry||1||5%|
|Ri Yong Gil||Chief of the KPA General Staff||1||5%|
|Ro Tu Chol||Vice-Premier of the Cabinet and Chairman of the State Planning Commission||1||5%|
|So Hong Chan||First Vice Minister of the People’s Armed Forces||1||5%|
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 analysis.
Featured image: Kim Jong Un at Paekhak-dong | Photo: KCNA
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