North Korea’s General Political Bureau Chief Hwang Pyong So, First Deputy Kim Won Hong, and other officials in the department have recently been punished, as revealed in a presentation to lawmakers by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). The latest intelligence report has raised the prospect of another possible purge of high-ranking officials in North Korea.
The NIS informed lawmakers that “Choe Ryong Hae, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), led an inspection of the military’s General Political Bureau (GPB) – the first in 20 years – and Hwang’s punishment was apparently the result of his inappropriate attitude towards the Party.”
Hwang was last seen with Kim Jong Un during an official inspection of an orchard in Kwail County, South Hwanghae Province on September 21. His most recent attendance at an official event was the 70th anniversary of the Mangyongdae and Kang Pan Sok Revolutionary Academies last December.
Daily NK spoke with Ahn Chan Il, Director of the World North Korea Research Center, who said, “Kim Jong Un is reshuffling the leadership to enable the execution of full-scale nuclear and economic development next year. Previously, he placed his sister Kim Yo Jong into the WPK Organization Guidance Department (OGD), and now he is trying to replace military officials with figures who will follow his instructions.”
Regarding the first inspection of the General Political Bureau in 20 years, Ahn said that the GPB was considered to be such an integral body of the military that it had not changed much over the years.
“Kim Jong Un even continued to support the GPB throughout his rule. But now he is looking to enhance his own power by weakening the GPB,” he noted.
Analysts are suggesting that the move is related to Kim Jong Un’s fear of generational infighting between the old guard of Kim Il Sung’s anti-Japanese revolutionaries and the new generation of elites, and that it is not actually due to ‘inappropriate attitudes’ of the leaders.
Hong Min, head of the North Korea Research Center at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said, “Nobody could touch the GPB during the Songun (military-first) era. But after the 7th Party Congress (in 2016), the party-led system was restored and the power of military bodies like the GPB and the National Defense Commission was diminished.”
“The GPB has not been challenged due to any suspected abuse of power. In reality, the inspection was meant to curtail the status of the organization, or signal their intention (of reining in the GPB),” Hong continued.
Woosuk University Visiting Professor Jeon Hyeon Joon believes this event marks the beginning of a new wide-scale purge “reminiscent of the ‘Shim Hwa Jo Incident of 1997, where thousands of cadres were purged by the OGD in order to preserve the North Korean system.” Jeon also said that while it is tradition in North Korea for everyone to be spying on each other, the move against the GPB is intended to suppress a potential source of independent power.
However, Kim Jong Un may still see some importance in utilizing members of the old guard, as evidenced by his selection of Choe Ryong Hae to lead the inspection of the GPB. Choe is the son of Choe Hyon, an anti-Japanese revolutionary who fought alongside Kim Il Sung and who was also previously Minister of the People’s Armed Forces. Choe experienced a brief fall from grace when he was demoted from the GPB in April 2014 and was sent to revolutionary education at a provincial cooperative farm in November 2015.