North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Thae Jong Su (T’ae Cho’ng-su)

Thae Jong Su (left) waiting to greet Kim Jong Un at the 8th Munitions Industry Department Conference in December 2017. Also in attendance with him are MID Deputy Director (for nuclear programs) Hong Sung Mu (center) and MID Deputy Director (for manufacturing) Hong Yong Chil (right) (Photo: Korean Central Television)

updated February 24, 2018

Thae Jong Su [T’ae Cho’ng-su] is a Workers’ Party of Korea [WPK] Vice Chairman and Director of the WPK Munitions Industry Department.  In that position he is responsible for policy planning and general operational management over the DPRK’s development and production of conventional and advanced weapons (WMDs), its space program, and machine-building industries.  Thae is a highly experienced manager and can be identified as being part of the cohort of technocrats who have come back to power under Kim Jong Un [Kim Cho’ng-u’n].  Tae’s career in the DPRK’s political culture and the government goes back /to the late 1960s and he is part of the peer group of late DPRK leader Kim Jong Il [Kim Cho’ng-il].

Thae Jong Su with other senior DPRK officials at a military parade in 2007. Standing behind him appears to be Hong Sung Mu.

Tae Jong Su was born in North Hamgyo’ng Province in 1936.  He attended the Mangyo’ngdae Revolutionary School and Kim Il-so’ng University.   Tae’s first significant position was as Chief Secretary of the North P’yo’ngan WPK Provincial Committee in 1970.  In 1976 he was appointed manager of the Hui’chon Precision Machinery Plan.  Tae was elected an alternate (candidate) member of the WPK Central Committee at the 6th Party Congress in October 1980.  He was also a featured speaker on the congress’s fourth day (13 October).


T’ae Cho’ng-su (L) with KJI in China in August 2010 (Photo: CCTV)

Thae served as a party manager of the DPRK Cabinet’s Secretariat and Minister of Shipbuilding Industry during the 1980s.  In the 1990s and 2000s he was the chief party secretary of the Taean Heavy Machine Complex.

He was appointed Vice Premier of the DPRK on October 17, 2007.  He was appointed Chief Secretary of the South Hamgyo’ng KWP Provincial Committee around June 2009.  During his first stint as the party boss in South Hamgyo’ng, Thae was instrumental in reviving production and operations at several mothballed industrial facilities, including the 8 February Vinalon Complex.  He also successfully managed programs that reduced hooliganism and street crime in Hamhu’ng, the provincial capital, as well as addressing public opposition to a botched currency swap in November 2009.

In June 2010, Thae Jong Su returned to Pyongyang and the WPK Central Committee apparatus.  He was appointed a WPK Secretary (now called WPK Vice Chairman) and became Director of the WPK General Affairs Department (also known as the General Department), which is responsible for document delivery, communications and other housekeeping and logistical matters in the WPK Central Committee apparatus.  Thae accompanied Kim Jong Il on trips to the PRC in May 2010 and August 2010.  During the latter trip, Thae Jong Su was prominently featured on Chinese television news while KJI toured a chemical fiber factory.

Thae was elected a member of the WPK Central Committee, an alternate member of the Political Bureau and Secretary and Director of General Affairs in September 2010.  Thae became a fairly regular member of KJI’s entourage, attending performances and on-site guidance and inspection tours.  After KJI’s death in December 2011, Thae remained part of the central leadership, but the frequency of his public activities diminished.

In June 2012 Thae appeared on state media television coverage of Korean Children’s Union members returning to Hamhu’ng Central Way Station from the KCU’s anniversary events in Pyongyang.  During that media appearance Thae appeared to have returned to his previous position as Chief Secretary of the South Hamgyo’ng KWP Committee.  Thae later appeared at a photo-op with supreme leader Kim Jong Un, however he was not part of a group of central party officials.    In September 2012, during commemorations for the death of KJI’s mother, Kim Jong Suk, Thae was filmed by DPRK state media delivering a floral basket to a statue of her, along with another South Hamgyo’ng KWP Committee secretary.  Later that month Thae was a rostrum member at the 6th session of the 12th Supeme People’s Assembly.  In October 2012 Thae participated in commemorations for the anniversary of the foundation of Mangyo’ngdae Revolutionary School in Pyongyang. Thae’s position as the party chief official in South Hamgyo’ng Province was corroborated when he met with PRC Ambassador to the DPRK Liu Hongcai when Liu and embassy officials toured South Hamgyo’ng.

Thae Jong Su speaking at an awards ceremony for contributors to the Hwasong-15 ballistic missile in December 2017 (Photo: Korean Central Television).


Thae Jong Su left his position in South Hamgyo’ng in 2015 and returned to Pyongyang.  He continued to appear at some public events, indicating that he was either semi-retired in a holding pattern until another post was vacated.  He was elected to the 7th WPK Central Committee during the 7th Party Congress in May.   In October 2017, at the second plenary meeting of the 7th WPK Central Committee, Thae was appointed WPK Munitions Industry Department Director, as well as a WPK Vice Chairman and full member of the WPK Political Bureau.


Sources: “Profiles of Presidium, Members and Alternate Members of Political Bureau,” Korean Central News Agency, September 29, 2010; “Thae Jong Su Appointed as Vice Premier of DPRK Cabinet,” Korean Central News Agency, October 17, 2007; “First Session of 12th SPA of DPRK Held,” Korean Central News Agency, April 9, 2009; “Kim Jong Il Appreciates Drama,” Korean Central News Agency, August 12, 2009; ” “Kim Jong Il Inspects Nakwon Machine Complex,” Korean Central News Agency, June 18, 2010; ” “Kim Jong Il Pays Unofficial Visit to China,” Korean Central News Agency, August 30, 2010; “Job Change for Tae Jong Su?” by Michael Madden, North Korea Leadership Watch, September 25, 2012; “Ambassador Liu Hongcai Visits DPRK South Hamgyo’ng Province,” PRC Embassy in DPRK (in Chinese), October 22, 2012

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