North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Gen. Hyon Chol Hae

updated February 24, 2018

Marshal Hyon Chol Hae [Hyo’n Ch’o’l-hae] is a retired senior Korean People’s Army [KPA] official.  From the mid-1990s until 2010, Hyon was a close aide and adviser to late DPRK leader Kim Jong Il [Kim Cho’ng-il]. Hyon was a highly skillful manager and political player with a significant patronage network among the KPA’s political commissar and political officers corps.

Hyon Chol Hae was born in 1934.  He attended the Mangyo’ngdae Revolutionary School and the Nicolae Bălcescu Military Academy in Romania.  He served in Kim Il Sung’s personal security escort corps in the 1960s.  In 1968 he was promoted to Major General and assigned as deputy director of organizations in the KPA General Political Bureau (Department).  However, he was dismissed from this position in the 1970s.  He was later assigned to be director of the KPA Rear Officers’ Training School.

In 1986 Hyon was promoted to Lieutenant General and assigned to be director of the KPA General Logistics Bureau, where served until 1995.  He was elected a Candidate Member to the Workers’ Party of Korea [WPK] Central Committee at its 19th Plenum (6th CC/6th Term) in December 1991 and elected to full membership at the WPK Central Committee meeting, the 21st Plenum (6th CC/6th Term) in December 1993, the last known Central Committee meeting held until September 2010.  He was a member of Kim Il Sung’s Funeral Committee in July 1994.

In 1995 Hyon was promoted to General and assigned as deputy director of the KPA General Political Bureau, with the organization portfolio  He was elected a deputy to the 10th Supreme People’s Assembly in 1998 and served on its Qualifications Screening Committee.  He was subsequently reelected to the 11th SPA in 2003 and the 12th SPA in 2009.  He was appointed director of the National Defense Commission [NDC] Standing Bureau in 2007.  In that position Hyon managed the NDC’s daily operations, he also coordinated security and interactions for Kim Jong Il’s field inspections of KPA units. In 2008, Hyon Chol Hae, despite a lower-tier position in the formal leadership hierarchy, appeared at a September 2008 military parade as a surrogate for Kim Jong Il, who was then recuperating from a stroke.


Gen. Hyon Chol Hae (R) with Kim Jong Il in Kangdong Cuonty, Pyongyang in January 2009 (Photo: KCNA)

Hyon, along with Gen. Ri Myong Su with whom he regularly appears in KJI’s entourage, has been a central player in KJI’s military management for 15 years.  Gen Ri and he appeared with KJI in his appearances before, around and after his August 2008 stroke.  Hyon also traveled to China with KJI in May 2010.  Hyon Chol Hae  found himself increasingly marginalized from Kim Jong Il at the time of the latter’s death in December 2011.

Hyon was promoted to Vice Marshal in 2012.  In April 2012 at the 4th Party Conference, he was elected an alternate member of the WPK Political Bureau.  He was also appointed 1st Vice Minister of the People’s Armed Forces and Director of the KPA General Logistics Department.  He retired from office in 2013.  In April 2016, for his many years of service and contributions, Hyon was given the title of KPA Marshal.


See also:

Gause, Ken.  “Scenarios and Signposts: Managing Future North Korean Crises”

(Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analyses, June 2009)

North Korean Civil-Military Trends: Military First Politics to a Point (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute USAWC, 2006)

Yonhap News Agency.  North Korea Handbook (Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe, 2003) pp. 657; 791

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