North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

NDC/CMC Banquet

KCNA reported on 24 December 2010 that Kim Chong-il attended a banquet co-hosted by the National Defense Commission and Central Military Commission “on the occasion of the 19thanniversary” of his appointment as KPA Supreme Commander.  On the same day, on the same pretext, the DPRK media broadcast a talk show that included four KPA soldiers talking about their participation in the 23 November attack on Yeonpyeong Island.

The banquet’s reported VIP guest list contained several cohorts among the military leadership that figured prominently in the country’s political culture in 2010.

The reported guest list also contained a few notable absences.  Six of the ten official Vice Chairmen or Members of the NDC were not reported as attending.  Of the NDC membership represented, only Kim Chong-il and Chang Song-taek have NDC listed in their reported positions.  Five members of the CMC were also not reported as attending.  Kim Yong-chun, NDC Vice Chairman and CMC Member, and Yi Pyong-chol, Commander of the KPA Air Force and CMC Member, were reported attending a concert by the Merited State Choir with KCI on 26 December 2010.

Kim Chong-il’s Military Support Network

KCI’s military support network seems to have dwindled in the last few years due to reorganization in security management, as well as the deaths in 2009 and 2010 of several active officials, such as Kim Tu-nam and Chang Song-u.

Kim Chong-il with (L-R) Gen. Kim Myong-kuk, Gen. Hyon Chol-hae and Gen. Yi Myong-su at a field inspection in November 2008 (Photo: KCNA)

Yi Myong-su and Hyon Chol-hae: For much of the 2000’s, Gens. Yi Myong-su and Hyon Chol-hae were the most frequently reported members of Kim Chong-il’s entourage.  For example, Hyon and Yi were reported and seen attending Kim Chong-il’s final public appearance in August 2008 and his first public appearance in October 2008, when KCI experienced health problems.

In 2010 they both experienced periods of not being reported attending KCI’s visits and inspections; however they did join him on one of the trips to the PRC.  Yi and Hyon have been traveling with KCI in November and December 2010.  They also stood side-by-side as rostrum members at the 11 October military parade.

Gen. Yi Myong-su (2nd R) in Yanggang Province May 2010

Yi There are no accounts or indications about the nature of the political or interpersonal relationship between Yi and Hyon.  Yi Myong-su has a specialty in combined arms and is a former chief of the GSD Operations Bureau.  He is currently director of general management and personnel at the NDC.


Gen. Hyon Chol-hae (R) with Kim Chong-un during KCI's 4th visit to the Huichon Power Station in November

Hyon Hyon is a representative of the KPA’s political corps, having no known professional military specialties or experience.  Hyon sat to the left of Kim Chong-un in the front row during the 3rd Party Conference.  Hyon has also been observed taking a more activated role in Kim Chong-il’s recent visits.

Gen. Kim Myong-kuk (L) at military exercises held for Army Day 2010

Kim Myong-kuk Kim began the year observed to be reduced in rank to Colonel General (3 star; sangjang), which was eventually restored.  Kim remains of the KPA’s most powerful personalities.  Tasked with implementing the orders of the KPA Supreme Command (whose office is in the GSOB), he dwells in the interstices of the KPA’s service branches, the internal security apparatus and the paramilitary reserve training units.  Kim directed a number of drills and exercises in 2010 and was a significant contributor to one of the Korean Peninsula’s tensest years since the end of active hostilities in the Korean War.  Kim stood behind Kim Chong-il during the 65th anniversary military parade in October.

Gang of 4

The gang consists of Yi Yong-ho, Kim Chong-gak, Chu Sang-song and U Tong-chuk.  These are four 2nd Generation KPA leaders who were elected or appointed to central leadership positions, or received military promotions, in the same period of time (early 1990s and 2007-2010).  Only three of the four members of the Gang of Four were reported to have attended the banquet.

Three of the Gango of Four on the rostrum during the 3rd Party Conference: U Tong-chuk (2nd row, L), Yi Yong-ho (1st row L) and Kim Chong-gak (1st row R)

They are evenly balanced in three of the DPRK’s central collective leadership organizations in the government and party. In the government, Chu Sang-song, Kim Chong-gak and U Tong-chuk are official members of the National Defense Commission [NDC].  Yi Yong-ho is not.  In the party apparatus, Yi is Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission [CMC].  Kim and U are CMC members, and Chu Sang-song is not.  Yi and Chu are full members of the Political Bureau, while Kim and U are Political Bureau alternate (candidate) members.

Yi Yong-ho Appointed chief of the KPA General Staff in February 2009, Yi continued his acceleration toward the power center in 2010, promoted to Vice Marshal on 27 September and elected Vice Chairman of the CMC on 28 September during the September 2010 CC KWP Plenum.  Yi was the master of ceremonies at the NDC/CMC banquet.  He also managed troop presentation and delivered a speech at the 11 October parade to commemorate the party’s 65th anniversary.  Yi also made a graveside speech at Cho Myong-nok’s funeral, and made remarks during the 3rd Party Conference.

Yi officially received for PRC CMC Vice Chairman, Col. Gen. Guo Boxiong and his PLA delegation.  Guo visited the DPRK to participate in event commemorating the 60th anniversary of the CPV’s entry into the Korean (or Fatherland Liberation) War.  Yi also traveled to Cuba from late October to early November 2010.  Yi led an MPAF/GSD delegation that watched among other activities watched an anti-tank exercise and met with members of the Cuban and Revolutionary Armed Forces leadership.  ROK Pyongyang watchers noted that Yi Yong-ho was not reported to have made any public appearances around the time of the artillery 23 November 2010 attack on Yeonpyeong Island.

Yi’s rapid upward career mobility and his links to the hereditary succession garnered him a great deal of attention from the Pyongyang watching community in 2010.  He has a number of personal ties to the Kim Family and other elites.  Previously he was chief of the Pyongyang Defense Command, a position in which the incumbent was never purged.  However, in participating in Pyongyang political life Yi is now exposed to the risk of policy failures or personality politics.  As chief of the GSD and a member of the Political Bureau and CMC, he currently holds positions where the incumbents were rapidly bounced from the power center.  Yi might look to Gen. O Kuk-yol (not reported as attending the banquet) who was GSD Chief and on the Political Bureau and CMC in the 1980s, but was removed and demoted in 1988.

Yi Yong-ho delivers a graveside eulogy at Cho Myong-nok's funeral in November 2010

Kim Chong-gak (C) after Kim Chong-il's attendance of a performance at the Pyongyang Circus in July 2010

Kim Chong-gak­ Kim Chong-gak is reputed to be a zealous hardliner among the KPA leadership.  He seems to be a calculated player in regime dynamics with the responsibility of personnel control in the KPA and education and indoctrination about hereditary succession, as well as the country’s 2010 attacks on the ROK.  Kim presided over a ceremony in May 2010 where three statues of the “Paektu Generals”  (KCI; Kim Il-song; Kim Chong-suk) were unveiled.  Kim directed the state funeral held for Cho Myong-nok (to whom Kim was subordinate).  Kim also participated in Kim Chong-il’s meetings with Zhou Yangkang and Guo Boxiong in October 2010.

Kim Chong-gak became senior deputy director of the KPA General Political Department in 2007 and has supervised personnel turnover and some reorganization in the KPA.  Kim has managed the daily operational affairs of GPD and is likely to remain as interim director since Cho’s death; this is a position which Kim Chong-il need not fill immediately (as he’d also have to select an NDC 1st Vice Chairman).


Chu Sang-song (2nd R) attending Kim Chong-il's visit to the 927 Chicken Farm in August

Chu Sang-song Chu was not reported as attending the banquet.  Even if he did not attend, Chu needed neither the face time nor the plug.  The Ministry of People’s Security and Korean People’s Internal Security Forces may have completed a successful reorganization under the NDC in 2010.  Vice ministers of the Ministry of People’s Security officially traveled outside the DPRK.  In February, MPS broadcasted a joint message with the Ministry of State Security directed at an ROK delegation visit Kaesong (“Will Mercilessly Squash Anti-Republic Fanatics Who Attempt to Harm Our Highly Dignified System and the Country’s Security”) MPS reportedly increased its presence in cooperative farms and provincial cities.  It was also allegedly bypassing provincial prosecutors’ offices to clear its case load.

Chu Sang-song appeared with Kim Chong-il on several occasions in 2010.  KCI visited the Taedonggang Combined Fruit Farm, his final public appearance before the 3rd plenum of the 12th SPA.  Chu stood between Chang Song-taek and VMar Yi Yong Mu (NDC Vice Chairman) at the 65th anniversary military parade in October.  Kim Chong-il attended a meeting and photo session with the KPISF prior to traveling to South Hwanghae Province around 20 November 2010.

U Tong-chuk U Tong-chuk’s star continued to rise in 2010.  In April, he was promoted to General (4-star; taejang) only a year after his promotion to Colonel-General.  U Tong-chuk made a number of reported appearances with Kim Chong-il (who technically holds the he position Minister of State Security) in 2010, as against occasions where U escorted KCI but his attendance not disclosed.  U was a rostrum member at the 3rd Party Conference, and several national and central report meetings.

The MSS had a busy year.  It was responsible for the investigation and incarceration of released US citizens Robert Park (February) and Aijalon Gomes (August).  MSS maintained its regular activities in, including the dispatching of special instruction teams, North Hamgyong and Yanggang Provinces.  MSS was on the periphery of the personnel changes that occurred at the provincial and central party levels.  It was also responsible for investigating party conference delegates (party representatives) in September 2010.  MSS has experienced trouble in several of its foreign revenue ventures.

Leadership Security

The management of the DPRK’s so-called Praetorian Guard consisting mainly of the Guard Command and Military Security Command, had an active and public year.  Kim Chong-il managed to travel safely outside the country twice in 2010.  Mr. Choe, the head of KCI’s personal security escort, was an understatedly prominent member of the entourage that traveled to Beijing and Jilin Province in May and August, respectively.  The Military Security Command was reportedly involved in a number of enforcement and security missions dealing with the food supply.  Both the Guard Command and MSC were also likely linked to surveillance and security matters connected to the purges and migrations in the DPRK elite in 2010, as well as performing internal security functions in the aftermath of the DPRK’s sinking of the Cheonan and the 23 November attack on Yeonpyeong Island.

Yun Chong-nin Yun has continued his movement toward the power center, typical of his Guard Command predecessors.  He was one of only two general-grade officers promoted on Army Day, when he was given his fourth star (taejang).  Like U Tong-chuk, Yun is a regular unreported member of Kim Chong-il’s entourage who made several reported visits or attended performances this year.  In September, he was elected as Yi Ul-sol’s replacement on the Central Military Commission.

Kim Won-hong Kim Won-hong sat at Kim Chong-un’s right during the 3rd Party Conference, which telecasted an intimidating message to any potential claimants disputing the post-KCI power center.  Like the late Won Ung-hui whom he replaced in 2003, Kim enjoys the confidence and affections of the Supreme Commander.  As a former head of the MPAF (GPD) Cadres Department, Kim has patronage ties in the KPA’s officer corps who entered service in the 1990s.  Kim Won-hong was elected to the Central Military Commission in September 2010 and will continue to figure more prominently in the regime’s political life.

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