After suffering a demotion last year due to a “grave” violation of quarantine rules, Ri Pyong Chol was recently reinstated with the military parade that marked the 90th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean army on Apr. 25. Daily NK understands that the spectacular restoration of a man once ridiculed for having foiled up his career has sent shockwaves through the North Korean military.
A Daily NK source in the North Korean military said Friday that Ri’s return represented the biggest pardon granted during North Korea’s springtime holiday period. He said within the military, people believe Ri was more severely rebuked than normal because he had been a close “comrade” and “brother-in-arms” of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ever since the latter was just a successor-in-waiting 10 years ago, but has now been restored to a high position.
Having served as a key figure since Kim took power a decade ago, Ri was rebuked and removed from his position on the Presidium of the Political Bureau during an expanded meeting of the Political Bureau last June for alleged negligence in carrying out major party decisions regarding emergency quarantine efforts.
When Ri was shunted off to the party’s Defense Industry Department upon his rebuke after having risen to one of the military’s top positions, military personnel commented that Ri seemed like a “discarded calabash” and that his career would go nowhere unless Kim called once again.
His sudden appearance on a major stage 10 months after his sacking has drawn global attention. When he appeared right next to Kim Jong Un during the military parade on the night of Apr. 25, he was wearing the insignia of a field marshal on his shoulders.
The source said he was named a marshal sometime between Kim Il Sung’s birthday on Apr. 15 and the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean military on Apr. 25. He said Ri was awarded the title with several leading officials from the Central Committee present, with Kim pinning the epaulettes on Ri himself.
The source further commented that Ri’s reinstatement was both a declaration to North Koreans and the outside world that the government would develop “to the max” its nuclear arsenal and prioritize national defense during the remainder of the five-year economic development plan, and an example of “gift politics.” He added that Ri’s comeback was aimed at consolidating the policy line of prioritizing national defense given that the party is celebrating this year as the heyday of Kim Jong Un’s revolutionary decade.
All in all, given that North Korea is demonstrating its defensive strength while promoting the strengthening of its nuclear arsenal as the leading accomplishment of Kim Jong Un’s decade in power, the country has carried out a symbolic personnel move that recognizes the accomplishments and contributions of Ri, who has led the nation’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles.
Ri was again named a member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Central Committee. Ultimately, the naming of two military figures — Ri and Pak Jong Chon — to the Presidium of the Political Bureau, a key party body, reconfirmed Kim’s will to strengthen the country’s nuclear arsenal.
The source said the appointment should be seen as dividing “military matters” and “munitions.” That is to say, the party split the process of taking weapons researched, developed, and screened by the munitions industries and testing and deploying them in the military, entrusting each half to Ri and Pak. He said this reflected the party’s position to bolster the country’s nuclear arsenal in a short period of time by dividing munitions and military matters on a working level.
This suggests that North Korea’s current intention and strategy is to entrust Pak with military operations and command and Ri with military industries to more effectively lead defense policy.
The source said Ri’s weakness is that his style is to push forward and challenge things while lacking a proper understanding of how things work in the military industries. To overcome this, he has been named a formal cadre in the military industries sector, forcing him to go around munitions factories to experience things on the ground.
Meanwhile, Ri’s reinstatement is reportedly becoming an opportunity to elicit more loyalty for Kim Jong Un from within the military.
The source said military personnel say the “cadre who worked with Kim the longest” has once again been placed at the leader’s side to mark the 10th year of Kim’s rule and the recent holiday celebrations. He said soldiers believe the reinstatement demonstrates that in the life of a revolutionary, “the path to rebirth lies with the leader, while the leader always reflects and manifests the conscience and ethics of the revolutionary.” The source added that military personnel say Kim’s lofty and benevolent virtue has set straight the life of a cadre who nearly ended up in the gutter.
Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.
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