It has been confirmed that Choe Ryong Hae, former head of
the General Political Department of the Chosun People’s Army, has been moved to a secretarial position within the Chosun Workers’ Party.
During a May 2nd report on Kim Jong Eun’s visit to the newly remodeled Songdowon
International Children’s Camp near the city of Wonsan, Chosun Central News
Agency announced, “Secretary of the
Central Committee of the Chosun Workers’ Party Choe Ryong Hae made a
speech at the ceremony.”
Choe’s ranking on the published list of attending officials also
reinforced the point that he has been demoted. He was listed fourth on the list
behind Party heavyweights Kim Ki Nam and Choe Thae Bok, as well as Hwang Pyong
So, who was listed first. Hwang, a close affiliate of Kim Jong Eun, is now performing
Choe’s former role.
Such listings have long been used as proxies for the
comparison of relative power within the ruling hierarchies of socialist states
over time. However, they are also an imprecise measure in circumstances such as
the familial state structure of North Korea. Kim Jong Eun’s sister Kim Yo Jong
appeared ninth on the list of attendees at Songdowon, but her power is likely
to exceed that of others due to her family links within the ruling elite.
Choe’s demotion means that all four of the core personnel
tasked with building the Kim Jong Eun succession system have now been removed
from gatekeeper roles. Among the other three, former Chief-of-Staff Ri Yong Ho
was dismissed from all his positions in mid-2012, Jang Song Taek was executed
at the end of 2013, and Kim Jong Eun’s aunt Kim Kyong Hui has not been publicly
active since autumn 2013.
“Director of the
General Political Department of the KPA is the position of overall management
and control of the People’s Army; being pushed out of that position breaks Choe
Ryong Hae’s authority,” one Seoul-based North Korea expert told Daily NK
on condition of anonymity. He added that making Choe a Party secretary is
tantamount to “giving him a high position but no authority.” Former leader Kim
Jong Il took similar steps on a regular basis to ensure that no alternative
power bases were able to form beyond his immediate control.
However, Sejong Institute researcher Cheong Seong Chang gave
an alternative analysis, pointing out, “Choe Ryong Hae is in worsening health,
which means that he could no longer actively pursue the leading role in the
General Political Department. Rather than making him retire following his
dismissal, he has been appointed to a Party position dealing with labor
organizations, where the burden of the work is smaller.”
“Kim Jong Eun positioned Choe very close by his side, to
show that he still has unwavering trust in him,” Cheong added. In North Korean television
footage from the Songdowon events, Choe appears alongside Kim Jong Eun almost
continuously, dressed in a dark business suit with the mandatory pin badge.
Meanwhile, it has not been confirmed whether Choe has also
been removed from the Standing Committee of the Party Politburo, National
Defense Commission and Party Central Military Committee, although this is believed
to be likely.