North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

VMAR Jo Myong Rok Dies

KCNA reports that VMAR Jo Myong Rok passed away on 6 November (Saturday).  VMAR Jo served as 1st Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission and Director of the MPAF General Political Department (Bureau).  He was elected to the CC KWP Political Bureau Presidium during the 3rd Party Conference on 28 September 2010, and he made his last reported public appearance at a commemorative photo session, held after the conference.  Despite advanced age and poor health, VMAR Jo retained his powerful NDC and GPD positions.  He also made sporadic public appearances, including Kim Jung Rin’s state funeral in April of this year, and at a central report meeting in December 2009.  VMAR Jo was a close cohort of Kim Jong Il’s, attending military inspections and guidance tours in the 1990s and 2000s, as well as a regular guest at KJI’s soirees.

VMAR Jo attends visiting hours held during the state funeral of CC KWP Secretary Kim Jung Rin in April 2010 (Photo: KCNA)

Yonhap reports KCNA’s official statement on VMAR Jo’s death.  It was also announced that a funeral committee was being formed, with KJI and his son (and Party Central Military Committee co-Vice Chairman) Kim Jong Un in the top two slots.

Carrying Jo’s lengthy obituary, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) gave no indication that his death is related to the North’s ongoing processing of another father-to-son power transfer. It only said that he died Saturday of “an inveterate heart disease.”

The KCNA described him as “a revolutionary comrade loyal to leader Kim Jong-Il and a prominent activist of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the state and the army of the DPRK who devoted his whole life to the sacred struggle for the freedom and independence of the country and the victory of the cause of socialism.”

It added, “His death is a great loss to the party, the army and people of the DPRK waging a dynamic struggle to win the victory of the cause of building a thriving socialist nation and bring earlier the independent reunification of the country.”

Jo Myong Rok may have literally carried Kim Jong Il into the DPRK, when Kim Jong Suk returned to the country in 1945 (her own triumphal return), which Jae Cheon-lim recounts in Kim Jong Il’s Leadership of North Korea (Routledge, 2009):

After the 1945 liberation, in late November, Kim Chong-suk arrived at the harbor of Unggi in North Hamgyong Province with Kim Jong-il and other partisans.  It was said that young guerrilla fighters such as Cho Myong-nok and Chon Mun-sop carried Kim Jong-il on their backs […] They stayed in Chongjin near Unggi until late December and entered Pyongyang only after Kim Il Sung became the first secretary of the North Korean Communist Party on 18 December that same year.  Kim Il Sung did not have time to meet with his family until after he stabilized the party.

Unggi in Rajin-Sonbong (Rason) in the northeastern DPRK

Here is a brief biographical sketch on VMAR Jo Myong Rok, and a career chronology, a version of which appeared in KPA Journal Vol. 1 No. 9.

Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok served as the 1st Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission and from 1995 to 2010 served as director of the MPAF General Political Department.  He held the second-most powerful position in the DPRK Government which reflects his three decades at the center of power in the DPRK.  Vice Marshal Jo was perhaps most notorious for leading an official DPRK delegation to the United States in 2000.

Jo Myong Rok was born in 1928.  He attended the Manchuria Aviation School and Soviet Air Academy and served as a fighter pilot during the Korean (Victorious Fatherland Liberation) War.  He was promoted to Major General in 1954.  In 1975 Jo Myong Rok was assigned command of Pyongyang’s Air Defense Command.  He was promoted to Lieutenant General in 1976.  In 1977 he became commanding officer of the KPA Air Force, a position he would hold in 1995.

Jo was elected to full membership on the Party Central Committee (CC KWP) and membership on the Party Central Military Committee at the 6th Party Congress in October 1980.  He was elected a deputy to the 7th Supreme People’s Assembly in 1982.  He was promoted to General in 1992.  He was a member of Kim Il Sung’s Funeral Committee in July 1994.

In 1995 he was promoted to Vice Marshal and made director of the MPAF General Political Department.  In this position Vice Marshal Jo was the primary manager of the political education, indoctrination and surveillance of the military.  Jo was elected Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission at the 10th Supreme People’s Assembly in September 1998.  He was elected to the Party Central Committee Political Bureau and its Presidium on 28 September 2010.

Jo Myong Rok

1st Vice Chairman, National Defense Commission

Director, General Political Department, KPA

Member, Party Central Committee (CC KWP)

Member, CC KWP Political Bureau Presidium

Member, Party Central Military Committee (1980-2010)


1952-1953: KPA Air Force, Fighter Pilot

1954: Promoted, Major General, KPA

1975: Commanding Officer, Pyongyang Air Defense Command

1976: Promoted, Lieutenant General, KPA

1977: Appointed, Commanding Officer, KPA Air Force

1980: Elected, Member, CC KWP

Elected, Member, Central Military Committee, CC KWP

1982: Deputy, 7th SPA

Awarded, Order of Kim il Sung

1985: Promoted, Colonel General, KPA

1986: Deputy, 8th SPA

1990: Deputy, 9th SPA

1992: Promoted, General, KPA

1994: Member, Kim il Sung Funeral Committee

1995: Promoted, Vice Marshal, KPA

Appointed, Director General, Political Bureau, KPA

1998: Deputy, 10th SPA

Elected Vice Chairman, NDC

2003: Deputy, 11th SPA

2009: Deputy, 12th SPA

2010: Elected, Member, CC KWP Political Bureau

Special thanks to Lincoln Patrick for correcting an earlier misspelling

An affiliate of 38 North