North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Kim Jong Gak (Kim Cho’ng-kak)

During a Feburary 8, 2018 parade in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Un smiles and applauds with top four members of the KPA command: (L-R) Minister of the People’s Armed Forces Gen. Pak Yong Sik, KPA General Political Department Director VMar Kim Jong Gak, Chief of the KPA General Staff VMar Ri Myong Su and KPA General Staff Operations Bureau Director Gen. Ri Yong Gil (Photo: Rodong Sinmun).

updated May 31, 2018

VMar Kim Jong Gak (Kim Cho’ng-kak) is a senior Korean People’s Army [KPA] commander.  He is a member of the Workers’ Party of Korea [WPK] Political Bureau, member of the DPRK State Affairs Commission, member of the WPK Central Military Commission, member of the WPK Central Committee and deputy of the Supreme People’s Assembly.  VMar Kim has held numerous command positions in the DPRK’s conventional armed forces and is a highly versatile and experienced DPRK military leader.

Kim Jong Gak was born in 1941.  He attended Kim Il Sung Military University.  He officially joined the DPRK leadership in the late 1980s.  He was elected to candidate membership on the WPK Central Committee at its 19th Plenum (6th Term/6th CC) in December 1991.  He was promoted to Colonel General in April 1992.  He was elected to full membership on the WPK Central Committee at its 20th Plenum meeting in December 1992 and subsequently appointed a Vice Minister (without portfolio) of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces.  In his military career Kim Jong Gak served as a battalion commander, commander of the forward deployed 820th Tank Corps, deputy corps commander and manager of a training facility.

Kim Jong Gak was a member of Kim Il Sung’s Funeral Committee in July 1994 and O Jin U’s Funeral Committee in February 1995.  Kim joined the Supreme People’s Assembly as a deputy (delegate) in 1998, an ongoing position.  His appointment as MPAF Vice Minister was renewed in 1998.  Kim had a managerial role over headquarters political activities.  He also had a coordinating role on military parades and other KPA public affairs activities.

Kim was promoted to General in April 2002.  In 2004 he began appearing in the DPRK’s external press participating in meetings with foreign delegations.  He was a surrogate for the KPA at a reception for Pyongyang military attaches.  He also attended meetings and receptions with DPRK allies such as the Russia, Uganda, Cuba and China.  In 2006 he was part of a group that met with then-Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan during a 2006 Pyongyang visit.  Kim Jong Gak gave the keynote speech at a celebratory rally in Kim Il Sung Square following the DPRK’s test of a nuclear device in October 2006.  At the rally he said that “the nuclear deterrent in the hands of our People’s Army is a powerful defensive means to defend the security of the Korean peninsula and its vicinity” and warned that “if the US imperialists continue taking the road of reckless provocation, it will be an act of self-destruction pushing forward a miserable end.”

Kim Jong Gak first appeared as a reported member of Kim Jong Il’s entourage when KJI visited the PRC Embassy in Pyongyang in 2007.  Kim Jong Gak also attended a mass games performance with KJI in October 2007. At an event the same month commemorating the anniversary of the revolutionary schools Kim was identified in the specially created position of Senior Deputy Director of the KPA General Political Department.  In this job, he took over running the GPD’s day to day affairs for then director VMar Jo Myong Rok [Cho Myo’ng-rok] who was experiencing health problems incident to his advanced age.

An indication of his ascendant career occurred twice in 2008 when Kim joined KJI’s entourage paying tribute to Kim Il Sung at the Kumsusan Memorial Hall.  In August 2008, while KJI was recovering from his stroke, Kim Jong Gak delivered another keynote speech commemorating the anniversary of KJI’s songun leadership.  Kim also conducted a Vietnamese military delegation’s September 2008 trip to the DPRK.

Gen. Kim (C) with Gen. Ri Yong Ho (2nd R), receiving guidance from Kim Jong Il after a concert performance in early 2010 (Photo: KCNA)

Kim Jong Gak was formally elected to the expanded National Defense Commission at the first session (plenum) of the 12th SPA in April 2009.  Gen. Kim was observed or reported having joined Kim Jong Il at concerts or attending military inspections on 30 occasions in 2009.  Gen. Kim was listed as #11 on the rostrum of a national memorial service held to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s death in July 2009.  Kim led a KPA General Political Department delegation on a trip to China in November 2009 and visited Beijing.  During that trip, Kim traveled to Jilin Province, PRC, and visited the Yuwen School.  He ended 2009 by delivering the keynote speech at a national meeting held in honor of DPRK military hero, O Jung Hup.

In May 2010, Kim Jong Gak presided over a ceremony at the MPAF where bronze statues of KIS, Kim Jong Il and his mother, Kim Jong Suk, were unveiled.  Kim was responsible for the first publicized dedication of a KJI statue and at the unveiling ceremony delivered the keynote speech.

The cover of the KPA daily reporting on the statue unveiling ceremony presided over by Gen. Kim in May 2010

Kim Jong Gak is part of a group of 2nd and 3rd Generation DPRK leaders who have moved to the power center during 2008 to 2013.  Gen.  Kim has appeared on numerous occasions with Chief of the General Staff, Gen. Ri Yong Ho.   Kim played a leading role in education and indoctrination efforts within the KPA in support of Kim Jong Un’s succession.

Gen. Kim Jong Gak (1st Row, R) on the rostrum at the 3rd Party Conference in September 2010

Kim Jong Gak was elected a member of the Party Central Military Commission and alternate member of the WPK Political Bureau on 28 September 2010 during the 3rd Party Conference.  Kim was one of seven senior DPRK officials who escorted the hearse during Kim Jong Il’s funeral in December 2011.

Kim Jong-gak second from right during an April 2009 inspection (Photo: KCNA).

In February 2012, Kim was promoted to Vice Marshal and was appointed minister of the People’s Armed Forces in April.  In November 2012 he was removed from office as Minister of the People’s Armed Forces.  At the March 2013 meeting of the WPK Central Committee, Kim was removed from the WPK Political Bureau and at the 7th session of the 12th SPA on 1 April 2013 was removed as member of the National Defense Commission “due to the transfer to other jobs.”  Kim led the construction and development and was the inaugural President and Dean of the Kim Il Sung Military University’s Graduate and post-Graduate School.

Senior DPRK officials watch a concert on February 16, 2018. Among those in attendance are SPA Presidium Vice President Yang Hyong Sop, Minister of People’s Security Choe Pu Il, KPA General Political Department Director VMar Kim Jong Gak, Pyongyang WPK City Committee Chairman Kim Su Gil, DPRK Vice Premier Kim Tok Hun, State Planning Commission Chairman and DPRK Vice Premier Ro Tu Chol and DPRK Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho (Photo: KCNA).

VMar Kim was elected a member of the 7th WPK Central Committee during the 7th Party Congress in May 2016.  In either December 2017 or January 2018, Kim Jong Gak was appointed Director of the KPA General Political Department, replacing Hwang Pyong So.  He made his first observed media appearance in that position when he attended a military parade alongside Kim Jong Un on February 8, 2018.  During the 6th session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly Kim was elected a member of the State Affairs Commission.

In May 2018, VMar Kim was replaced as head of the KPA General Political Department, however there are several indications that he remains a member of the KPA high command close military aide to Kim Jong Un.


Vice Marshal Kim Jong Gak

Member, State Affairs Commission

Member, WPK Political Bureau

Member, WPK Central Military Commission

Member, 7th WPK Central Committee

Deputy, 13th SPA

1991: Elected, Candidate Member, WPK 6th Central Committee

1992: Promoted, Colonel General, KPA

Elected, Member, WPK Central Committee

Appointed, Vice Minister, MPAF

1994: Member, Kim il Sung Funeral Committee

1995: Member, O Jin U Funeral Committee

1998: Deputy, 10th SPA

Re-appointed, Vice Minister, MPAF

2002: Promoted, General, KPA

2003: Deputy,11th SPA

2009: Deputy, 12th SPA

Elected, Member, National Defense Commission

2010: (September) Elected, Member, WPK Central Military Commission

Alternate Member,KWP Political Bureau

(November) Member, Jo Myong Rok Funeral Committee

2011: Member, Kim Jong Il Funeral Committee

2012: Promoted to Vice Marshal

Appointed, Minister of the People’s Armed Forces

Elected, Member, WPK Political Bureau

(November) Removed as Minister of the People’s Armed Forces

2013: (March) Removed as Member, WPK Political Bureau

(April) Removed as Member, National Defense Commission

Appointed, Dean and President Kim Il Sung Military University Graduate School

2014: Elected, Deputy, 13th SPA

2015: (November) Member, Ri Ul Sol Funeral Committee

2016: (May) Elected, Member, 7th WPK Central Committee

2018: (January) Appointed, Director, KPA General Political Department

(April) Elected, Member, WPK Political Bureau

Elected, Member, State Affairs Commission

(May) Elected, Member, 7th WPK Central Military Commission

Removed from office, Director, KPA General Political Department

See also

Gause, Ken.  Scenarios and Signposts: Managing Future North Korean Crises (Alexandria, VA: CNA, June 2009)

“Pyongyang Mass Rally Held to Welcome Successful Nuclear Test,” Korean Central Television (in Korean) October 20, 2006

“Great Leader Comrade Kim Jong Il Visited the PRC Embassy in Our Country,” Korean Central Broadcasting Station (in Korean) March 4, 2007

Kim, Sam.  “New statue of N. Korea’s aging leader goes public amid speculation over successor” Yonhap News Agency July 16, 2010 (

Yonhap News Agency.  The North Korea Handbook (Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe, 2003) p. 843

“Seventh Session of 12th SPA of DPRK Held,” Korean Central News Agency, April 1, 2013

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