May 23, 2024

The legacy of Kim Yang Gon and inter-Korean relations

Kim’s death brings uncertainty, concern regarding Pyongyang’s policy toward South

Prominent North Korean official Kim Yang Gon died in a car accident Tuesday, the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported early Wednesday. Kim was a highly significant official within the Pyongyang regime, having served as the North’s point man on inter-Korean relations for the past eight years and having been an apparent close confidant of current North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. His sudden death of raises the question of how his absence will affect inter-Korean relations and, potentially, regime politics.

Kim Yang Gon had a long career working in international and inter-Korean affairs for Pyongyang. He reached the senior ranks of the North’s diplomatic organs by the late 1980s. In 1986 he became a deputy director in the International Affairs Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea and a member of the Chosun Diplomatic Association (a.k.a. Korea Foreign Affairs Association). In 1991 he was elevated to vice chair of that association as well as chairman of the DPRK-Japan Amity and Friendship Association. In 1997, he rose to director of the WPK International Affairs Department. In 2007, Kim transitioned from international to inter-Korean affairs when he became director of the WPK United Front Department, the North’s primary organization for dealing with South Korea and inter-Korean relations.

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