Changes to the DPRK constitution approved by the country’s parliament in March have led to changes in protocol for diplomats working in the country, NK News learned Friday, with incoming ambassadors now required to directly address their credentials to leader Kim Jong Un.
Kim, who officially holds the title of Chairman of the State Affairs Commission (SAC), is referred to in the country’s new revised constitution as “supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, who represents the State,” as well as “commander-in-chief”– a role effectively making him head of state.
These changes now appear to be being formalized in the country’s bureaucracy: a note circulated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) on Friday informed diplomats of the “new stipulation…” which mirrors the constitutional change in stating that the SAC Chairman is the “Supreme Leader of the [DPRK], who represents the state.”
As a result of the new rules, newly-appointed North Korean ambassadors “will from now on present Credentials done in the name of the Chairman of the State Affairs Commission” to local heads of state.
“The government of the DPRK,” in turn, “will receive the Credentials of ambassadors extraordinary and plenipotentiary of other countries which are to be addressed to the Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK.”
The new requirements mark a notable shift away from past protocol, with ambassadors to the DPRK having presented credentials to the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, previously the country’s de jure head of state.
This title was for over 21 years held by Kim Yong Nam, who was frequently seen at official ceremonies receiving credentials from foreign diplomats in Pyongyang.
Kim was replaced in that position in March by Choe Ryong Hae, who was also promoted to first vice-chairman of the State Affairs Commission (SAC). Choe has yet to be seen confirming any new ambassadors.
It remains unclear whether this week’s changes will mean leader Kim Jong Un will now personally meet with new ambassadors to receive their credentials.
“The document bases this change on the added role of the SAC chairman, but Article 116 of the revised constitution still says it is the SPA Presidium president who ‘receives credentials and letters of recall from other countries’ envoys on behalf of the state,'” said Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst with NK News‘s sister site NK Pro.
Lee pointed out that while changes appear to have been made to how the letters are “addressed,” the fact that it is the “government” and not the SAC Chairman who is in the new notice said to receive credentials suggests Choe Ryong Hae “may continue to meet with and receive credentials from foreign envoys.”
The reason for the change, Lee added, may be “to emphasize Kim’s head-of-state status” following the constitutional revision, albeit belatedly.
Additional reporting by Chad O’Carroll
Featured image: KCNA