North Korean’s number 2 is out?

North Korea’s elderly comeback kid Choe Ryong-hae is believed to have been demoted again and undergoing reeducation. Why? This is due to the fact that there was no trace of Choe Ryong-hae on the guest list for the funeral of Ri Ul-sol, an iconic old apparatchik and soldier who died of lung cancer. Choe Ryong-hae (his biography is available there) was theoretically purged by Kim Jong-eun. If it’s true, this is a purge similar to the Jang’s one of 2012.

Choe Ryong-hae circed in green). Source: Xinhua
Choe Ryong-hae circed in green). Source: Xinhua


  • If Choe Ryong-hae was purged, this is bad information for the safety of the North Korean system. Even if Kim Jong-un has all powers in North Korea, Choe has a strong network (however to a lesser extent that Jang Sung-thaek) which may try to “change the deal” in North Korea.
  • Choe promoted the cooperation with South Korean entities (instead of Chinese one). It may be a reason for Kim Jong-un to demote him. I believe that Choe Ryong-hae was dismissed because he wasn’t able to manage the difficult relations between China and North Korea.
  • The outing of Choe Ryong-hae can be also connected to the new KWP congress which will take place in May 2016. His demotion may be officially confirmed. He will be dismissed from his post as Workers Party secretary and from the Political Bureau of the KPA.
  • A more optimistic view may assets that Choe Ryong-hae was sent to a collective farm or to a construction project managed by the Kim family (a major party of North Korean companies are under the management of the Kim family. Some of these companies are partially belonging to the Kim family).
  • Choe has been promoted and demoted several times during his high-flying career, surviving probably because he is the son of a revered partisan who fought alongside nation founder Kim Il-sung. However he was demoted during the Kim Jong-il’s era, which was more stable that the Kim Jong-un’s one. In 1998, when he was working in the utility administration of Pyongyang, Choe was sacked. He lately reappeared in 2014.

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Nicolas Levi

Analyst on North Korean issues

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