North Korea promoted three military officials on Thursday, the day before Kim Il Sung’s birthday, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
Ri Myong Su, current chief of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) General Staff, was promoted to vice marshal title, while Kim Yong Chun and Hyun Chol Hae – both from KPA – received the marshal title.
“Ri was likely chosen for that role because of his experience and perceived loyalty to the regime,” said John Grisafi, NK News director of intelligence.
The announcement highlighted the officials’ “great contributions to thoroughly establishing the party’s monolithic commanding system in the KPA.”
All of them are in their 80s, and mainly served during Kim Jong Il’s rule. Ri appeared frequently during the former leader’s field activities and now is in charge of day-to day operations of the North Korean military.
He was appointed as chief of KPA General Staff on last February. Ri has primarily served at KPA General Staff and worked as a minister of People’s Security, Pyongyang’s police administration, from 2011 to 2013.
According to NK Leadership Tracker, Ri underwent military positions from 1996 to 2012, gradually increasing his career activities within the economic sector. A KCNA Watch chart shows Ri had remained largely unreferenced in state media from mid-2014 to early 2016.
The promotions for these senior officials however are largely symbolic and a sign of respect for their seniority and past achievements, experts said.
“Kim Jong Un reorganized the army’s structure, dissolving the legacy of Songun (military-first) and now is providing honorary positions for seniors,” Kim Dong-yup, professor at University of North Korean Studies, told NK News.
According to the NK Leadership Tracker, Kim Yong Chun’s career was most active during 2009 to 2013 and he has been suspended since 2014, indicating that this promotion doesn’t have working-level meaning.
Hyon Chol Hae’s activity shows a similar pattern. Hyon’s career has also not been updated after 2013.
“Respect can not only appease the senior officials but also motivate up-and-coming soldiers at the same time,” Kim added.
Kim Jong Un has conducted excessive reformation, particularly in the military sector.
“Thirty percent of party and administration officials and 40 percent of military officials have been replaced so far,” Yun Duk-min, Chancellor of Korea National Diplomatic Academy, wrote on the journal of Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS) on April 6.
Featured image: Ri Myong Su and Kim Jong Un watch a KPA drill in February 2016 | Photo: Rodong Sinmun