Kim shuns Choe, his former No. 2

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Kim shuns Choe, his former No. 2

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Choe Ryong-hae, the once-powerful de facto No. 2 in North Korea, marked in the right circle, claps at a youth football match Friday at Songdowon International Children’s Camp in Wonsan. He appears to have been purged.[Rodong Sinmun]

Footage from North Korea’s state media appears to prove that Choe Ryong-hae, the regime’s de facto No. 2, was indeed purged and shunned by leader Kim Jong-un.

On Friday, Kim attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the Songdowon International Children’s Camp, a youth center in Wonsan aimed at promoting Communist propaganda, in which Choe was present, according to a report Tuesday by the North’s official Korean Central Television.

Also in attendance were senior officials from the military and the ruling Workers’ Party.

However, during the ceremony, held near a scenic beach off the east coast, the young leader never once turned his eyes in Choe’s direction, according to the report. The former top military chief and director of the powerful General Political Bureau of Pyongyang’s Korean People’s Army seemed to be nervous about Kim’s lack of acknowledgement.

The report also detailed Choe’s fall from North Korea’s inner political circle. Kim Ki-nam, the longtime secretary of the ruling party, stood to Kim’s left, and on the leader’s right side was Hwang Pyong-so, the regime’s rising star who replaced Choe as the director of the General Political Bureau.

Choe was mentioned fourth by the state-run media. Hwang was listed first, followed by two party secretaries, Kim Ki-nam and Choe Thae-bok. The former top military official’s full name was used only once by KCTV, in which he was only introduced as “a secretary of [North Korea]’s Workers’ Party.”

Similarly, when Choe delivered the opening address at the ceremony, KCTV only referred to him as “the speaker” and did not call him by name. Choe, who was one of late leader Kim Jong-un’s six vice marshals, did not wear a military uniform at the ceremony and was instead dressed in an ordinary suit.

After the ceremony, Kim Jong-un watched a youth football match in the grandstand with his officials. He talked to the officials on Hwang’s side, leaning toward them, with his back toward Choe. While other party officials seemed to compete for the leader’s attention, Choe sat away from him and did not speak to him.

At one point, when Choe accidently got in Kim’s way, the former de facto No. 2 appeared startled and swiftly stepped aside. And later, while everyone seemed to enjoy the fireworks display, Choe still appeared nervous. Kim Yo-jong, the leader’s younger sister, who sat next to him, was the only one to address him.

The Rodong Sinmun, the ruling party’s official mouthpiece, released a front-page photo on Saturday of the leader talking to the officials at the ceremony, with Choe obviously excluded.

“Choe seemed to have shrunk past our expectations,” said a Seoul official who analyzed the video. The official surmised that Choe’s ouster seemed to be punitive - not just part of an ordinary shake up - given Kim’s abrupt change in attitude toward the once-powerful military official.

An official from the Ministry of Unification in Seoul said that despite all possible reasons, Choe had been saved and not infinitely purged, most likely thanks to his familial ties with the Kim dynasty. His father, Choe Hyon, was a close aide to founder Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong-un, and a respected anti-Japanese Communist guerilla in the regime.

“Given the fact that Choe’s family partly contributed to the foundation of the North Korean regime, Choe was named a party secretary [and not purged]” the official said.

BY LEE YOUNG-JONG, KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]



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