Pyongyang’s NDC never actually shut down

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Pyongyang’s NDC never actually shut down

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is keeping the National Defense Commission (NDC) in place despite reports that it was closed down for the newly created State Affairs Commission (SAC), a North Korea intelligence source told the JoongAng Ilbo.

The source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that in contrast to widespread speculation that Kim had shut down the NDC, which used to be the highest decision-making body, and replaced it with the State Affairs Commission, which Kim presides over as chairman, that Kim has kept the NDC in place possibly to avoid potential complaints from senior military officials.

“Despite the establishment of the State Affairs Commission, the organizational structure of the NDC is still being maintained,” the source said. “Assessments that the NDC had been shut down to make way for the SAC are incorrect.”

The source said this is based on intelligence that said within the past few days Kim allegedly held appointment ceremonies for senior officials to new posts within the NDC. According to the intelligence, senior military official O Kuk-ryol, 85, was appointed with a new title within the NDC. The veracity of such intelligence could not be verified given the reclusive nature of the North Korean regime.

During a meeting of the rubber-stamp parliament on June 29, Pyongyang revised its constitution to stipulate that Kim Jong-un was its supreme leader and that he holds the title of chairman of the SAC.

It also said the NDC was replaced by the SAC, a move North Korea experts here say indicate Kim’s shift of focus from the military to the party and government. But the revised Constitution did not say the NDC was abolished.

Established in 1972 by state founder Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong-un, the NDC has been a central state organ overseeing state affairs with each successive member of the Kim family at the top. The NDC served as a symbol of pride among military officials because of its emphasis on national defense and the military, according to North Korea sources.

At the first inter-Korea summit in 2000, then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the father of Kim Jong-un, signed a joint agreement with his South Korean counterpart Kim Dae-jung as chairman of the NDC.

Kim Jong-un was chosen to lead the NDC as First Secretary in April 2012, five months after his father Kim Jong-il abruptly died of a heart attack.

“Kim couldn’t abolish the NDC because he was wary of protest from senior military officials,” the source said. A sense of discontent among military officials already surfaced in April of last year, the source added, when Kim reportedly had defense chief Hyon Yong-chol executed for acts of disloyalty such as dozing off during a meeting.

A Unification Ministry official told reporters Tuesday if the NDC was indeed still in place, “it would have likely been serving as an unofficial advisory body” for Kim Jong-un.

BY KANG JIN-KYU, LEE YOUNG-JONG [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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