North Korean leadership promotes Im Chon Il to vice foreign minister

North Korean authorities promoted First European Department director general (유럽1국장). Im Chon Il to the position of Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs. Continue reading “North Korean leadership promotes Im Chon Il to vice foreign minister”

North Korean leader Orders to Promote Military Ranks of KPA Commanding Officers

Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea, ordered to promote the military ranks of commanding officers of the Korean People’s Army on Saturday on the occasion of the 70th founding anniversary of the DPRK.

Continue reading “North Korean leader Orders to Promote Military Ranks of KPA Commanding Officers”

Kim Phyong Hae: the growing figure of North Korea ?

Kim Jong Un, first secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, first chairman of the National Defence Commission of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, had a photo session with the participants in the 8th Conference of the Ideological Officials of the WPK.

Noting that the conference unprecedented in its scale in the history of the WPK marked a significant occasion of making a new milestone in glorifying for all ages the immortal exploits performed by President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il who always led the WPK and the Korean revolution to victory by dint of ideology and in raising a strong wind of ideological campaign, information and agitation as required by the developing reality, he congratulated the participants on successfully holding the conference amid high enthusiasm.

Very great are the trust and expectation of the party for the ideological officials, he said. Expressing expectation and conviction that they would arouse all the service personnel and people to the grand drive for ushering in a golden age of Songun Korea by launching a campaign all at once on the party ideological front, he had a photo session with them.


Present there were Kim Ki Nam, Choe Thae Bok, Kim Phyong Hae, Kwak Pom Gi, Kim Chang Sop, Jo Yon Jun, Kim Kyong Ok, Ri Jae Il, Choe Hwi, Hwang Pyong So, Tong Yong Il and chief secretaries of the provincial committees of the WPK.

Among present people, we can notice Kim Phyong Hae, a KWP secretary. This person was also an advisor to Kim Jong Il. According to North Korean sources, some members of his family were accused of corruption and punished. Kim Phyong Hae also disappeared from the politicial scene in 2012. I do believe that he’s a new advisor to Kim Jong Eun. His son is also very closed to Kim Jong Eun

Ri Chol (the former tutor of Kim Jong Eun) is not dead

During the arrestation of Jang Sung Thaek (a so-called former numer 2 of the DPRK), various DPRK watchers indicated that some of his closest allies were also executed. One of them was probably Ri Chol (a.k.a Ri Su Yong, the former DPRK ambassador to Switzerland and the former tutor of Kim Jong Eun). Watching some Soutk Korean analytical documents, it can be noted, that Ri Chol was present during the arrest of Jang Sung Thaek. Ri Chol was probably saved because he’s highly connected to the Kim family . He’s probably a kind of member of the Kim family (he has several titles such as director in various DPRK companies, deputy director of the federation of Christianists of the DPRK, etc). It should be also noted that the meeting of the CC KWP was only reserved to a certain number of KWP members as of the entire hall wasn’t occupied. In order to prove the previous assumptions you may use the following pictures: Ri Su Yong

On this first picture Ri Chol is encircled in red (DPRK tv printscreen)

On this second picture please remark, that rows are empty (up to the red line). The entire hall can welcome more than 2 thous. Deputy. At the meeting related to the arrest of Jang Sung Thaek, there were only 200 selected KWP members. rows

Yongusil 25: Nicolas Levi and New DPRK Analysis from the Polish Academy of Sciences

This article was prepared by colleagues from, a major platform for research on NK issues.

ommentators and analysts whose focus is north of the DMZ are kept mightily busy by their investigative and research charge, a truth especially so in recent months. Nicolas Levi, a long-time associate of and contributor to Sino-NK, and currently an Assistant Professor of the Polish Academy of Sciences, has been one of those kept working by the latest activities in Pyongyang. Levi’s interests are wider than simply the field of contemporary North Korean politics, extending into philosophic and structural contribution made to society and culture in the wider Korean Peninsula.

Levi’s policy paper for The Polish Institute of International Affairs entitled “Insanity or Part of a Plan? Prospects for Changes to North Korean Domestic and Foreign Policies” refers to Hazel Smith’s conceptualization of the analytic triad: North Korea as “mad, sad or rational actor“  Levi’s well structured review and coagulation of themes in contemporary systems and political scholarship is therefore well grounded theoretically.

Primarily Dr. Levi seeks to place the developing themes of economic and developmental reform within North Korea’s institutions in the wider frame of institutional developmental, especially post-Jang. Levi sees, intriguingly, the consolidation of power around the person and institution of Kim Jong-un in his initial years of reign as a diminution of the power, place and authority of the Korean People’s Army and the wider institutional complex of the North Korean military.

Levi’s analysis might also feed into the direction of last week’s Yongusil focusing on Green and Denney’s utilization of Peter Evan’s “pockets of efficiency” within a North Korean developmental context. We might see Jang’s death and the inevitable collapse in its wake of those “pockets of efficiency” controlled by him or his connected cohort as a reassertion of military control over those pockets, those institutions forming them and the streams of trade and capital around which they were constructed.

Levi also raises the issue of North Korean foreign policy and how this diminution of military influence within its governmental and developmental institutions might relate to the Special Economic Zones such as Kaesong and Rason, the majority of which are connected, at least in terms of their supply lines to external/foreign partners.

Levi posits the possibility that a pre-Jang reduction in military authority might give Kim Jong-un and the North Korean leadership apparatus some scope for loosening to reducing the level of hostility it exposes foreign nations to in its media and official narratives and perhaps some possibility for diplomatic breakthroughs. Dr. Levi sets out his framework for diplomatic action and engagement given this context, but it will be fascinating to watch the impact of the collapse of Jang’s ‘faction’ or support network on Pyongyang’s future relations with those with whom it engaged.

Nicolas Levi has also contributed a more trans-peninsular and East Asian analysis of the impact of Confucianism on contemporary South Korean and Japanese culture to the latest edition of the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Journal Acta Asiatica Varsoviensia. In his article for this journal, Levi tracks the impact of Confucian filial principles in the modern age on the differing nationalisms either side of the East Sea/Sea of Japan. The same issue also includes work from the esteemed Russian academic Larisa Zabrovskaia (a member of the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography of the People of the Far East, Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladivostok, whose work we have covered before at the Yongusil) writing on diplomatic relations in East Asian following the Fukushima incident and Frauka Kempka (of Martin Luther University, Halle Wittenberg), on the contrasting conceptions of ethnic homogeneity between Germany and East Asian nations. It seems that Levi (and others’ work), is representative of a vibrant and multi-focused Polish academy, busy, as usual at analysis and investigation.

Remplacements économiques / changements ministériels en Corée du Nord

L’économie nord-coréenne était sous le contrôle de la famille des Jang et tout particulièrement de sociétés qui étaient affiliées au Ministère de l’Administration. Certaines d’entre elles étaient tout particulièrement dans le domaine des mines et de l’industrie des matières premières. Cela peut probablement expliqué le fait suivant

La quantité de charbon exporté entre la Corée du Nord et la Chine a été multipliée par 4 (voire 5) entre le début des années 2000 en passant de 2-3 millions de tonnes à plus de 10 millions en 2011. Cet accroissement des exportations aurait été partiellement du à la politique prochinoise de Jang Sung Thaek. Sa dénomination risque de changer le cap de ces échanges.

C’est donc pourquoi afin de reprendre la main dessus, Kim Jong Eun en coopération avec Choe Yong Rim et du cercle des anciens généraux ont décidé de faire démissionner les personnalités responsables de certaines activités des matières premières. A noter cependant : tous n’ont pas été démissionnés (je pense tout particulièrement à Jon Sung Hun, un économiste nord-coréen).

Les remplacements economiques du cabinet ministériel.

Han Hyo Yon

Ancien ministre de l’industrie des métaux: il a été remplacé par Kim Yong Gwang en tout début janvier.



Kim Yong Kwang

 Kang Min Chol

Kang Min Chol, Le ministre nord-coréen de l’industrie minière a été remplacé par Ri Hak Chol en début janvier 2014. Kang Min Chol appartenait au réseau de patronage de Jang Sung Thaek. Kang Min Chol occupait ce poste depuis novembre 2005. Veuillez noter que bien que Kang ait été un proche de Jang Sung Thaek, il occupait son poste lors de la période d’exil de Jang (2004-2007).  Ri Hak Chol a souvent voyagé en Europe et est un homme d’affaire nord-coréen. Kang Min Chol a été arrêté.

Kim Yong Ho

Ancien secrétaire du Cabinet ministériel: il a été remplacé par Kim Jong Ha.

Rim Nam Su

Rim Nam Su, ancien ministre de l’industrie du Charbon a été remplacé par Mun Myong Hak. Celui-ci a été présenté lors d’un anniversaire au Complexe Minier de Pukchang (partie septentrionale de la Corée du Nord).

A new leadership and new challenges in North Korea?

Since Kim Jong-il passed away in December 2011, on one hand it seems that new elites are appearing at the head of North Korea. However these people were not belonging to the former flagship structures of the North Korean system. On the other hand, from the standpoint of economical issues, the North Korean army (the KPA – Korean People’s Army) which was at the head of many companies in the field of the public infrastructure in North Korea had lost a part of its power (by losing its control on mining and agriculture infrastructures) due to an increasing power of the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP-the North Korean Communist Party) and affiliated organizations. In other words, companies run by military structures are now under the control of organizations affiliated to the Korean Workers Party (the Ministry of International Trade, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Second Economic Committee,…).

Indeed, the army is not merely a military force, it is also the largest employer in North Korea. Given the strong involvement of the military structures in the political and economic life in North Korea since its inception in 1948, the army has become a key organization of the North Korean system.

A monument to the glory of Kim Il Sung: the founder of North Korea (© 2010 / N. Levi)
A monument to the glory of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea
(© 2010 / N. Levi)

Over the years, new paramilitary organizations have been created in North Korea (including among others the Worker-Peasant Red Guards established in 1959) so that the army refocus around its military actions. Since the mid 90’s , the Kim family (the biological family of Kim Jong-eun, the current leader of North Korea) has been increasingly opposed to the economic role of the KPA. Thus the economic functions of the KWP have been strengthened by creating hybrid organizations affiliated both to the KPA and the KWP (such as the second Economic Committee, a sort of Ministry of Economic Affairs or the military Commission of National Defense, a military organization jointly managed by the KWP and the KPA). Nevertheless the KPA is still managing some strategic economic structures. Paramilitary organizations are also managing structures of less importance. The KWP (especially some specific KWP cells) seeks to take control of some economic structures because the KPA economical policy diverges from the KWP one. The KPA continues to be considered as a conservative organization while cells mentioned below are significantly more open to economic change in North Korea and its leaders consider themselves as better managers of companies that the military representatives to business entities.

The referred changes appear to be orchestrated by the Kim family, the family of those who rule over North Korea since 1948 (the establishment date of North Korea). Indeed the structures of the Party involved in assets management which were previously managed by KPA affiliated organizations are currently managed by some members of the Kim family (Paek Se- bong, the director of the Second Economic Committee is a cousin of Kim Jong-eun, Kim Yong -chun , the director of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards is the great uncle of Kim Jong-eun, … ) . These elements indicate that the real power is in the hands of the Kim family.

Why the Kims ? We must here mention that in the 40s, Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator personally decided that Korea should be under Soviet administration. In fact he knew that the Americans had the same type of claims. Thus Stalin decided that a North Korean named Kim Song -ju (the original name of Kim Il-sung) was chosen as the representative of Moscow in the Korean Peninsula. Then the same Kim Il-sung encouraged Mao and Stalin to attack South Korea, which was under U.S. occupation. This is ultimately a bloody conflict that broke out between the two Koreas between 1950 and 1953Neither Korea won the war in July 1953 and an armistice was signed. 2 million of civilians and soldiers were killed in this conflict.

After the death of Stalin, Kim Il-sung was worried by the results of the XXth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in 1956. He noticed that Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, had strongly criticized the policy of his predecessor. Therefore it was necessary to implement another strategy in order to remain at power in North Korea. Therefore Kim Il-Sung decided to set up another system of loyalty, a system based upon links blood and loyalty to the Kim family.

Consequently in the 60’s, the Kim family members were appointed at key positions of the North Korean system (Kim Jong- ju, the younger brother of Kim Il-sung was responsible in the 60’s for the Department of Propaganda and Agitation of the KWP. Kim Sung-ae, the second wife of Kim Il-sung, was in the 70’s the first secretary of the North Korean Democratic Women’s Union. After the death of Kim Il -sung in 1994, the son of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il took the head of North Korea. When Kim Jong-il passed away in December 2011 he was replaced by his son Kim Jong-eun. The family of Kim therefore continues to play a key role in all structures of the socialist state since 1948.

Statue of Kim Il Sung (© 2010 / N. Levi)
Statue of Kim Il Sung
(© 2010 / N. Levi)

North Korea, from its inception until 1990, received a substantial international aid from countries of the Eastern bloc primarily from the Soviet Union which have actively participated in the reconstruction of North Korea. Many technicians from other eastern European countries (Poland Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, Romania,…) sent also funds to North Korea. Many North Korean orphans were also living in East Germany and in Poland.

In this international context, the key decisions of the Kim family chaired the fate of the North Korean population. Ongoing support of the Soviet bloc and China helped North Korea to avoid any reforms which could jeopardize the stability of the North Korean regime and thus have maintained the conservative wing of the family Kims (under the leadership of Kim Jong-il ) at the head of North Korea.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to the end of the economic support from the Soviet Bloc to North Korea. The consequences were tough for the regime of Pyongyang : starvation (more than 3 million people passed away according to secret North Korean reports disclosed to the general public), a never-ending energy crisis, …

The period from 1995 to the present day implicated structural and organizational changes in North Korea. The Kim family is still at the head of the main political, economic and military structures of the country, however, it seems that the “liberal” wing of the family took major policy decisions. These decisions are of course accepted by the former North Korean leader and by Kim Jong-eun. Those who advised the Kim family are politicians, businessmen, considered as being loyal to the Kim family . They studied abroad (in China, Europe, in the United States under false names), they  manage companies and have strong relations with the KPA .

Among the members of the “management board ” of North Korea, there are also other personalities such as Ri Su- yong, the tutor of Kim Jong-eun, now responsible for a number of investment in North Korea (especially in the resort of the Mount Kumgang), Kim Sung-nam , advisor of Kim Jong-eun on Chinese matters, Kim Sul-song , the older half-sister of Kim Jong-eun , who is managing some North Korean companies jointly with the millionaire brothers Jon (Sung-hun and Young-hun ) in the transport sector and in the supply of consumer goods (cars , etc.). The full list is much longer and includes many other members of the family who do not live necessarily in North Korea (such as Kim Jong-nam , the eldest son of Kim Jong-il who continues to manage some of the accounts of the Kim family).

The North Korean Supreme People's Assembly (corresponding to the British House of Commons or the U.S. House of Representatives) (© 2010 / N. Levi)
The North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly
(corresponding to the British House of Commons or the U.S. House of Representatives)
(© 2010 / N. Levi)

The advent of this liberal wing has led to radical changes in the North Korean system Since Kim Jong-il passed away in 2011, the KPA lost much of their decision-making abilities. The KPA was also forced to pass the economic entities that were under their control to the KWP. This raises the following question: Can the reorganization of these structures (which constitutes 70 % of the economic capacity of North Korea) lead to political and social changes in North Korea? The liberal wing of the Kim family which tries to avoid an internal unstability has to set new rules of the “game”. They reward the former KPA managers of important economic societies in North Korea (for example in the mining industry) or strategic military divisions (such as those near the borders with China and South Korea ). Kim Jong-eun gives them some kind of annual “gifts” (in form of cars, foreign currencies, furniture “Made in Europe” – some North Korean elites have homes where all products are Austrian!). That ensures the sustainability of the new relationship between the KPA and the KWP. This reflects also the increasing degree of corruption at the highest level of decision channels in North Korea and can subsequently lead to more radical changes with which the liberal wing could not cope in the future. How to know whether North Korean generals will still accept a loss of power in exchange of lavish “gifts” ? These same general are convinced that Kim Jong-eun will keep them alive? The recent history doesn’t give them reason. Ri Yong-ho, Kim Jong-gak and Hyon Chol-hae former leaders of the KPA were simply removed from their prestigious positions in the North Korean Army: so who’s next?

The next was Jang Sung-thaek, the former husband of the aunt of Kim Jong-eun. For unknown reasons ( Jang Sung- thaek allegedly threatened and thrown in doubt the power of Kim Jong-eun ), this North Korean politician was executed  on the 13th December 2013 after an quick military trial. It is still too early to draw conclusions from this event but if it is true that Jang Sung- thaek was executed, it would mean that nobody can feel safe in North Korea and that the Kim family has less power than in the past years if they were not responsible for the eviction of Jang Sung- thaek . It is also highly possible that the eviction of Jang Sung- thaek was due to conflicts that are not directly caused by opposing military factions. Indeed, in recent years, although the Kim family continues to dominate the political scene, other families (side-branches of the Kim family) have seen their roles increase in the recent years. Including among others, the Kang family ( Kang Sok-ju is a North Korean Deputy Prime Minister whose children manage companies in North Korea) , the Oh family (Oh Kuk-ryol’s children work in import-export companies between China and North Korea). Therefore, some disputes among these families may have lead to the eviction of Jang Sung- thaek ?

Regarding the nuclear file, it is now run by a group of KWP politicians endow with some military knowledge. This group of individuals (Kim Kyong ok , Ju Kyu-jang , Pak Do-chun and Choe Ryong -hae) represent the cutting edge on the atomic issue and these people should be involved in nuclear negotiations. What remains relevant here is the fact that these negotiations (if they can be considered reliable) are yet conducted by people associated to the Kim family: Ri Gun, Kim Kye-kwan and Ri Yong-ho . All without exceptions were relatives of the Kim family.

A monument to the glory of the North Korean ideology: the 'Juche' (© 2010 / N. Levi)
A monument to the glory of the North Korean ideology: the Juche
(© 2010 / N. Levi)

The Kim family must also deal with a generational challenge. In the past ten years, more and more North Korean leaders sent their children to study abroad (including in Austria, France , Great Britain,…) If this golden youth wishes to enrich themselves and change the fate of their country , then what may be the future of North Korea ? The answer to this question is difficult firstly because the North Korean regime continues to maintain an old hermetic system but on the other way a new generation of North Korean leaders ( for instance Paek Ryong-chon, the current director of the North Korean Central Bank, a former student in China and the son of Paek Nam-Sun , the former North Korean Foreign Minister) wants to get rich and it will necessarily pass through changes in the north Korean system, ie. more explicitly tangible reforms would be implemented

In conclusion, the enlarged Kim family is facing internal changes in North Korea. The Kim family must also take into account the generational changes taking place in its foreign partners (I think especially to the Chinese elites which are more and more opposed to the belligerent policy of Pyongyang) that may affect the future of relations between North Korea and its foreign partners. The changes that have been indicated in this text means that the North Korean leadership is aware of the requested changes but they are also conscious that these changes cannot question the nature of the North Korean political system.

Selected members of the Kim family

Identity Main function Familial Relation toward Kim Jong-eun
Kang Sok-ju Deputy Prime Minister Great cousin
Kim Jong-chol Kim Jong-eun’ advisor Half-brother
Kim Jong-nam Kim Jong-eun’s advisor on economic issues Half-brother
Kim Kwang-sop Ambassador of North Korea to Austria Uncle
Kim Pyong-il Ambassadeur of North Korea to Poland Uncle
Kim Sul-song CEO of companies Half-sister
Kim Yong-chun Director of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards Great uncle
Kim Yong-nam Head of State of North Korea Great cousin
Paek Se-bong Director of the Second Economic Committee Great cousin
Yang Hyong-sop Secretary of the Supreme People’s Assembly Great cousin