North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Ri Kwang Gun

Ri Kwang-gun

updated February 24, 2018

Ri Kwang Gun (Ri Kwang-ku’n) is a DPRK Government official responsible for external relations and foreign trade.  He has not been observed in DPRK state media or public life since 2014.  Ri has held a number of foreign trade positions in a career that has spanned three decades.  Ri speaks English and German.

Ri is a 2nd generation elite.  His father was one of Kim Il Sung’s personal physicians and director of the Ponghwa Clinic.  He was born in Pyongyang in 1954 and attended the Namsan Senior Middle School, and an intensive 7-year German language program at the Pyongyang Foreign Language Institute.  He studied at Kim Il Sung University from 1972 to 1975 and in Germany from 1976 to 1977.  He returned to Pyongyang and worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs until 1980, when he was appointed to the East German embassy as an interpreter and secretary.  In 1984 he was appointed to the State External Economic Affairs Commission, and returned to Germany from 1987 to 1991 as the embassy’s 1st Secretary for Foreign Trade.

Ri Kwang Gun returned to Pyongyang in 1991 to the State External Economic Affairs Commission where he remained until 1994.  From 1996 to 1999 he was president of a foreign trading company and a diplomatic councilor at the Germany embassy.  In December, 2000, Ri was appointed Minister of Foreign Trade.  Ri was dismissed as Minister of Foreign Trade in 2004, but returned in 2009 as a deputy director of Office #39.  His migration to the Workers’ Party of Korea [WPK] United Front Department, where he is directly subordinate to Kim Yang Gon was reported by the South Korean press in March, 2010.

In 2011 Ri migrated to the DPRK Joint Venture and Investment Commission [JVIC].  He was appointed JVIC Chairman in late 2011 (replacing Ri Su Yong) and greeted Orascom executive Naguib Sawiris when he arrived at Pyongyang Airport in February 2012.  In May 2012, Ri was part of a delegation led by Kim Yong Nam, President of the Supreme People’s Assembly Presidium and nominal head of state, that visited Singapore and Indonesia.

Ri was elected a deputy to the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly in March 2014.  He has not been observed in DPRK state media since the summer of 2014 and was not elected or appointed to any WPK positions during the 7th Party Congress in May 2017.  There is a very good chance, given his experience and background, that he works in Office #39.


See also:

Hunter, Louise. Kim Il-song’s North Korea (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999) p. 132

Yonhap News Agency North Korean Handbook (Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe, 2003) pp. 180-81

“N. Korea names trade expert as 2nd highest official on S. Korea” 16 March 2010

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