Report details North Korea’s rising, falling ‘stars’

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Report details North Korea’s rising, falling ‘stars’


In the two years under Kim Jong-un’s rule in North Korea, a total of 31 high-ranking officials in the ruling party, the cabinet and the military were purged, demoted or retired, and 52 new figures arose, a South Korean government report said.

The JoongAng Ilbo exclusively obtained an internal report yesterday, titled “An Analysis of the Shake-up of the Power Elite in the era of Kim Jong-un,” which was written by intelligence authorities. The report divided the North Korean power elite into two groups dubbed “rising stars” and “waning stars.”

It said the young leader carried out a generational shift across the board, replacing many older figures with relatively youthful ones, lowering the average age of the inner circle from 76 to 62. “Those senior party secretaries and military officials in their 70s - who exerted their influence in the era of Kim Jong-il - appear to have lost actual power now,” the report said. “The speed of the power shift was also faster than expected.”

One of the examples of the shake up is Jon Pyong-ho, an 87-year-old political bureau director of the cabinet. He has apparently been demoted from more powerful posts he once held such as party secretary in charge of the war industry or vice chairman of the National Defense Commission. On the list of so-called “rising stars” are a total of 52 people, according to the report.

The report picked four deputy-ministerial-level officials of the ruling Workers’ Party as the most notable figures: Kim Byong-ho, a deputy director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department; Pak Tae-song, a deputy director of the Organization and Guidance Department; Hong Yong-chil, a deputy director of the Machine Industry Department; and Ma Won-chun, a deputy director of the Finance and Accounting Department.

“In the ruling party, these technocrats are reportedly praised by Kim Jong-un,” the report said. “Kim Jong-un brought them on several field
guidance trips, and he appears to use those trips to groom or publicize new faces in the power shift.

“Those who frequently accompanied leader Kim Jong-un on his field trips are expected to rise as the new inner-circle elite,” the report said. “So we need to keep a close eye on the intelligence sources regarding this.”

The military has gone through a bigger shuffle than any other organization, the report said. The report focuses on 25 newly appointed senior generals who were promoted in the Kim Jong-un era.

“They are mostly specialized in operations and have experience as field commanders,” the report said. “Fifteen of them were recruited strictly because of their abilities rather than their family backgrounds or educations.”

The rising military stars include Kim Won-hong, minister of State Security, and two deputy directors of the General Political Bureau of the army, Yom Chol-song and Kim Su-gil. They reportedly led the purge and the execution of the second most powerful man in North Korea, Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of the leader.

Ri Song-guk, commander of the Fourth Corps of the North Korean Army, which faces South Korea’s western frontline units, is known to be 44 years old and a former commander of the 39th division.

The report admitted that the South Korean government is still lacking sources and specific information on the rising military stars.

“Except Kim Kyok-sik, the former chief of the General Staff of the army who is known as a hawk, we are still lacking in sources to distinguish which of the new military officials are hawks or doves,” the report said. “We will put our efforts into focusing on this point from now on.”

The report added that 17 senior military officials, who were praised as “the generation of the Songun [military-first] policy” and promoted under founding leader Kim Il Sung, were dismissed from their posts. Thirteen of them were actually purged, and the remaining four were retired.

The report also pointed out that North Korea reappointed several economists, such as Cabinet Premier Pak Pong-ju, who were once dismissed for their failure in the so-called July 1 new economic measures, a reformist policy in 2002 to partly adopt a capitalist system to boost the moribund economy.

Pak was an architect of the reform plan at the time, which attempted to give more autonomy to local businessmen.

But some military hard-liners reportedly protested his move, resulting in the plan floundering. After the plan was scrapped, Pak was demoted to a textile factory in 2007 but returned to Pyongyang in 2013 as the cabinet premier.

“If the new economists fail again in improving the economy, they will have to take responsibility for the failure,” the report said, implying those economists could face the fate of other economic planners such as Jang Song-thaek.

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