Skip to main content

North Korea's No.2 a routine reappointment or part of another purge?

By Euan McKirdy, CNN
updated 4:41 AM EDT, Tue May 6, 2014
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center, tours a frontline military unit, in this image released July 16 by state run North Korean Central News Agency. A recent <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/17/world/asia/north-korea-un-report/index.html'>United Nations report</a> described a brutal North Korean state "that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world." North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center, tours a frontline military unit, in this image released July 16 by state run North Korean Central News Agency. A recent United Nations report described a brutal North Korean state "that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world."
HIDE CAPTION
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • North Korean state media names Hwang Pyong-so as influential military figure
  • Hwang apparently replaces Choe Ryong-hae, who may have fallen out of favor
  • North Korean watchers don't think Choe will suffer same fate as Kim's uncle

(CNN) -- As so often happens, news of North Korea's latest leadership move trickled out from the regime's official KCNA news agency and hinted at a power shift in Pyongyang.

In a report published on the country's May Day celebrations, the government mouthpiece named Hwang Pyong-so, a senior official of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea and one of Kim Jong Un's closest confidantes, as director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army. The position is seen as the military's top political office.

North Korea's arsenal by the numbers
North Korea holds drills near sea border
Chang: N. Korea wants to embarrass Obama

Beyond a cursory mention of Hwang's new title, the news agency did not elaborate on changes behind the political curtain.

Promotion

The role is the top military position after Kim, who is supreme commander of the armed forces. Hwang was promoted to Vice Marshal just ahead of the KCNA report that named him as the new military political chief.

Previously, Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae held the position. While in the job, Choe was widely regarded by North Korea watchers as second only to Kim in terms of political clout. However, speculation about his position has been rife following reports that he may have been arrested, some months ago.

This conjecture appeared to have been unfounded as he maintained his position and had been a visible member of the regime until very recently, although his absence may have been due to poor health. The KCNA's May Day report, however, seems to have definitively denuded him of his power.

In the same piece that effectively coronated Hwang, Choe was referred to as a party secretary in charge of labor groups -- a relatively minor position.

Political consolidation

It's not the first time that Kim, who took power in 2011, has made personnel changes at the top. Moves -- some more high profile than others -- seem to be efforts by Kim to consolidate his position by elevating his own confidantes over those who served his father, the late Kim Jong Il.

In December 2013, he removed his uncle by marriage, Jang Song Thaek, from his position as top adviser and one of the most influential persons in the political hierarchy of North Korea in a very public purge. Kim had the man who was considered to be a close adviser of the scion of the Kim dynasty, which has ruled the North since the Korean War, executed and all but wiped from the record.

Despite the eggshells that seem to surround the country's most influential political positions, it is not thought that Choe has suffered the same fate as Jang.

A man believed to be Choe Ryong-Hae (L) talks to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) whilst attending a military parade in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.
A man believed to be Choe Ryong-Hae (L) talks to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) whilst attending a military parade in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.
Kim Jong Un baby photos revealed

Purge unlikely

A Unification Ministry source told the New York Times that it is unlikely that Choe has been purged.

N. Korea may be readying for nuke test

Seasoned North Korea watchers echo the line. An editorial on the independent specialist site NK News said that "it appears ... Choe is not being purged so much as being gradually phased out of power," while 38 North said that the news showed "so far no indication that it represents another broad purge such as occurred with Jang Song Thaek last December."

The move comes as the international community suspects the secretive state to be gearing up for another nuclear test, as well as rattling its neighbors with further live fire drills.

North Korea conducts live-fire exercises amid escalating tensions

North Korea says it has American in custody

South Korea: North Korea ready for nuclear test

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:51 AM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
North Korea has "the world's most advantageous human rights system," the country declares.
updated 9:35 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Three Americans detained in North Korea spoke out about their conditions Monday in an exclusive interview with CNN.
updated 4:52 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
The crowd cheers as the stars make their way to the ring for first pro-wrestling bout North Korea has seen in almost 20 years.
updated 9:37 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
CNN's Will Ripley makes a rare live report from reclusive North Korea.
updated 10:45 AM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
CNN's Will Ripley is given a rare look inside North Korea and tours Kim Jong Un's pet project, a waterpark.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
North Korea rejected an invitation to the Pope's Mass in Seoul. CNN's Paula Hancocks reports.
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Wed July 2, 2014
As diplomats discuss a string of unsolved kidnappings of Japanese citizens by North Korea, the families of those abducted anxiously wait.
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
updated 11:13 PM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
North Korea says it plans to prosecute two American tourists that it detained earlier this year, accusing them of "perpetrating hostile acts."
updated 7:38 PM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
North Korea proposed that "all hostile military activities" with South Korea be halted, but it attached conditions that Seoul is likely to reject.
updated 8:23 PM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
North Korean state news is reporting the country test-launched "cutting-edge ultra precision tactical guided missiles."
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
James Franco won't be following Dennis Rodman into North Korea anytime soon.
updated 7:04 AM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
Don't you hate it when the weatherman gets it wrong? Apparently, so does Kim Jong Un.
updated 7:44 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
New signs show Russia and North Korea are developing a closer relationship.
updated 8:12 PM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
Photographer Eric Lafforgue visited North Korea and shares his inside look at the most isolated country in the world.
updated 9:25 PM EDT, Mon May 12, 2014
Many North Koreans listen to illegal broadcasts on homemade radios, some are convinced to defect.
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
Jang Jin-Sung, a North Korean defector and former regime insider, speaks with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
ADVERTISEMENT