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Choe Ryong Hae Reborn as Workers' Party Secretary

Koo Jun Hoe and Chris Green  |  2014-05-04 23:28

It has been confirmed that Choe Ryong Hae, former head of the General Political Department of the Chosun Peoples Army, has been moved to a secretarial position within the Chosun Workers Party.

During a May 2nd report on Kim Jong Euns visit to the newly remodeled Songdowon International Childrens Camp near the city of Wonsan, Chosun Central News Agency announced, Secretary of the Central Committee of the Chosun Workers Party Choe Ryong Hae made a speech at the ceremony.

Choes ranking on the published list of attending officials also reinforced the point that he has been demoted. He was listed fourth on the list behind Party heavyweights Kim Ki Nam and Choe Thae Bok, as well as Hwang Pyong So, who was listed first. Hwang, a close affiliate of Kim Jong Eun, is now performing Choes former role.

Such listings have long been used as proxies for the comparison of relative power within the ruling hierarchies of socialist states over time. However, they are also an imprecise measure in circumstances such as the familial state structure of North Korea. Kim Jong Euns sister Kim Yo Jong appeared ninth on the list of attendees at Songdowon, but her power is likely to exceed that of others due to her family links within the ruling elite.

Choes demotion means that all four of the core personnel tasked with building the Kim Jong Eun succession system have now been removed from gatekeeper roles. Among the other three, former Chief-of-Staff Ri Yong Ho was dismissed from all his positions in mid-2012, Jang Song Taek was executed at the end of 2013, and Kim Jong Euns aunt Kim Kyong Hui has not been publicly active since autumn 2013.

Director of the General Political Department of the KPA is the position of overall management and control of the Peoples Army; being pushed out of that position breaks Choe Ryong Haes authority, one Seoul-based North Korea expert told Daily NK on condition of anonymity. He added that making Choe a Party secretary is tantamount to giving him a high position but no authority. Former leader Kim Jong Il took similar steps on a regular basis to ensure that no alternative power bases were able to form beyond his immediate control.

However, Sejong Institute researcher Cheong Seong Chang gave an alternative analysis, pointing out, Choe Ryong Hae is in worsening health, which means that he could no longer actively pursue the leading role in the General Political Department. Rather than making him retire following his dismissal, he has been appointed to a Party position dealing with labor organizations, where the burden of the work is smaller.

Kim Jong Eun positioned Choe very close by his side, to show that he still has unwavering trust in him, Cheong added. In North Korean television footage from the Songdowon events, Choe appears alongside Kim Jong Eun almost continuously, dressed in a dark business suit with the mandatory pin badge.

Meanwhile, it has not been confirmed whether Choe has also been removed from the Standing Committee of the Party Politburo, National Defense Commission and Party Central Military Committee, although this is believed to be likely.

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