Kim Yong Chol, director of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, has been appointed as the replacement for Kim Yang Kon, the former secretary for inter-Korean affairs who reportedly died of a car accident at the end of last year, Tongil News reported.
On Wednesday, Tongil News wrote that it had received confirmation from their source living in China, who overheard a North Korean official clearly naming Kim Yong Chol as the “secretary.”
On Monday, the Yeouido Research Institute, the ruling Saenuri Party’s think-tank, said that Kim Yong Chol had been nominated to replace Kim Yang Kon. Many South Korean media, including the Yonhap News Agency, also reported Kim Yong Chol as the new inter-Korean point man.
Some North Korea watchers, including Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute, worried that the military man Kim Yong Chol’s work in inter-Korean affairs would be problematic.
“If Kim Yong Chol is nominated as the director of the United Front Department, there will be many items on the political and military agenda to be dealt with between the two Koreas in the future, as Kim is one of the most hard-line in the North Korean military,” wrote Cheong on his website.
However, others cautioned the South against writing off any progress under the new inter-Korean point man.
“It is a losing game for South Korea if we have already branded Kim Yong Chol as a nonnegotiating military hard-liner,” Kim Dong-yup, researcher at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies told NK News.
Having seen and met Kim Yong Chol more than 10 times at the negotiation table during his previous service as South Korean Naval officer, Kim Dong-yup judged him to be a pragmatic strategist.
“Kim Yong Chol showed an unyielding hard-line manner in the public talking space, where every word being discussed in the room was recorded. But during the off-the-record sessions, Kim Yong Chol changed to a more soft-line, adroit, flexible and persuasive negotiator who also joked around at the table quite a bit.”
“Since 1989, he has been involved in inter-Korean business; he is more experienced than any counterpart South Korea can come up with. He even jokingly said that he is always busy explaining his past experience to his new South Korean counterpart, as our inter-Korean key person changes far more often than that of North.”
Kim Dong-yup insisted that a stubborn hard-liner would actually be easier to talk to as South Korean negotiators could predict his actions, but Kim Yong Chol is not that type.
“This new inter-Korean key man will be a challenging counterpart as he is far more experienced, skilled, sly and pragmatic and also has nuclear weapons as leverage against the South in talks.”
Kim warned South Korean decision-makers not to blindly follow some of the media’s simple-minded judgments on Kim Yong Chol, as it would be a great disadvantage to not truly know one’s negotiating counterpart.
Featured image: KCNA
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