Some left but some stay: a quick review of the election to the SPA

Analyzing the list of people who were chosen at the new SPA (Supreme People Assembly of North Korea) election, we can notice that as usually the same people were chosen as in previous elections except some little changes. It would be a great challenge to analyze each person chosen to the SPA, therefore I would like to provide some information concerning only a minor part of these people.

The Jang dream team

Some people associated to Jang Sung Thaek (the uncle of Kim Jong Eun who was executed in December 2013) were chosen to the SPA session including:

Ri Chol – the former tutor of Kim Jong Eun – who was supposedly dead…according to South Korean newspapers.

Ji Jae Ryong – the DPRK ambassador to China- was also chosen. Ji Jae Ryong is considered as a former friend of Jang Sung Thaek. Jang Sung Thaek was responsible for his nomination as an ambassador of the DPRK to the former Yugoslavia in the 80’s.

Ri Kwang Gun – a NK technocrat who worked in Germany and Bangladesh – was also reelected. He was responsible for some of the business of the Jang family. Maybe some of them had betrayed Jang ? That’s also a possibility which may explain that they are still alive (I personally do believe that the reality is more complicated).

Interestingly Mun Kyong Dok (the head of the KWP in Pyongyang and a jovial friend of Jang Sung Thaek) was not elected.

Other nominations

Long-term associates of Kim Jong Il were reelected. This was done in order to maintain the Pact of Stability between Kim Jong Eun and the DPRK leadership. Among them we can quote:

Ri Ul Sol, Yang Hong Sop,  Jo Yon Jun, O Kuk Ryol, Kim Yong Ju (Kim Jong Eun uncle and Kim Il Sung brother), Kim Kyok Shik, Ju Kyu Jang, Kim Yong Dae, Kim Yong Nam, Kang Sok Ju, Ro Tu Chol, Pyong In Son, Choe Pu Il, Pak Pong Ju, Choe Hwi, Ma Won Chun, Jon Yon Jon, Kim Kye Kwan, An Kum Chol, Kim Kyong Hui, Kim Yong Chun, Sim Chol Ho, O Il Jong, Hwang Pyong So, Ri Kil Song (the former procurator of the DPRK, a 90 years old politician), Kim Wan Su, Kim Ki Nam, Pak Ui Chun, O Kum Chol, Thae Jong Su, O Su Yong (one of my favorite politician in terms of influence over the DPRK)…and many others

Own conclusions

The family of Kim Jong Eun is not fully visible in the list of SPA delegates. Kim Jong Eun was selected at the 111 place (is it not sweet ?), Kim Jong Nam, an enemy of Kim Jong Eun and a half-brother of the leader, was not chosen. He’s supposedly under the protection of the Chinese police. How long ? We do not know.

Why nothing happened to Choe Ryong Hae ?

Recently, South Korean medias, announced that Choe Ryong Hae, the director of the powerful Political Bureau of the Korean Peopleąs Armz disappeared from the Political Scene. According to other sources, it rather seems that Choe Ryong Hae is alive, he’s however out of the scene for systemic reasons.


Choe Ryong Hae

First overall, those who are the most important in the North Korean system are people who are very often unknown. I’m thinking to persons belonging to the Personnal Secretariat of Kim Jong Eun and to the Deputy Directors of 3 departments:

– The Organization and Leadership Department

– The Propaganda and Agitation Department

– The Military Affairs Department

What I mean ? I do believe that important persons in the DPRK are not always on the top of the screen. Therefore it may means that Choe Ryong Hae may continue to play a role from behind.

I do also firmly believe that the core DPRK elites are switching their positions by rotation. Observing the DPRK leadership (such as Kwak Pom Gi), it can be noticed that people are very often changing their positions. It’s done not only to weak their positions in some structures but also in order to increase their competencies. The previous mentioned Kwak Pom Gi was a manager of companies, a former KWP regional secretariat and currently he’s one of the key economists of the DPRK, I may also quote of of my favorite DPRK elites who is rarely seen: O Su Yong. O Su Yong is rarely seen in public but he’s one of the tenors of the DPRK economy.

o su yong

O Su Yong

I also think that the fact  that Choe Ryong Hae is not visible is also a measure of the Propaganda Department which want to enlight/reinforce the position of Kim Jong Eun as a key leader of the DPRK. The absence of Choe Ryong Hae  is underlining the power of the 32 years old Kim Jong Eun.

In a few words: Choe Ryong Hae is safe: don’t worry:)

North Korean Elites: Implications for Commercial Activities with China

Over the past several years, and especially following Kim Jong Il’s stroke in 2008, China has substantially increased economic ties with North Korea, expanding its role as the economic lifeline of the North Korean regime and state.  As Daniel Gearin showed in his extensive report for the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Chinese Infrastructure and Natural Resources Investments in North Korea (20th October 2010), China is far and away the main foreign investor in North Korea. Accordingly, China has intensified its involvement with various elements of the North Korean elite structure, seeking to enlarge its base of relations and support within the regime. And, as anecdotal evidence, the last place visited by Kim Jong Il was the first Chinese supermarket in Pyongyang.

Senior and junior politicians in North Korea (politicians from the second and the third generation of elites) are actively trying to bring foreign direct investments to North Korea. The most important elites connected with Chinese businesses are directly connected to the National Defense Commission, the highest guiding organ of the military and the managing organ of military matters in North Korea. These elites are responsible for the management of huge North Korean investment groups (similar to South Korean chaebols) such as the Daepung Investment Group. These types of holdings are coordinating huge investment and commercial projects between North Korea and foreign partners (especially China). At the head of this organization are Jang Song Thaek, the uncle of Kim Jong Un Ri Kwang Nam, a former North Korean businessman who worked previously in Germany, Paek Sae Bong, an advisor to Jang Song Thaek and other people directly connected to Kim Jong Un’s family.

Artist Pete Kirill, in Miami, plays with notions of North Korean capitalism; click picture for link to his evocation of Kim Jong Il’s funeral

Another sign of a shift towards focusing on economic relations with China is the increase of official visits of North Korean prominent figures who are reform-minded. When Kim Jong Il was alive, he used to travel to China always with the same people who were keen on the Chinese economy. Among them we can quote O Su Yong (a North Korean technocrat), Kim Pyong Phae (a former advisor to Kim Jong Il), and Jon Sung Hun. Jon Sung Hun is one of the most important businessmen of North Korea. He’s the CEO of the Korea Pugang Corporation, a North Korean chaebol (a company with around $20 million in capital and an income of $150 million). Jon Sung Hun studied in Tanzania and has excellent English skills. Another important figure of exchanges between North Korea and China is the previously mentioned Ri Kwang Gun.

Ri Kwang Gun has recently been appointed as chief of the Committee of Investment and Joint Venture designed to draw foreign investments to the country. Ri Kwang Gun studied the German language, persevered and worked in the former East Germany as a commercial attaché at the North Korean embassy in Berlin. He’s now also an executive of the Daepung International Investment Group, a manager at the Rajin-Sonbong Special Economic Area, a director of the State Development Bank, director of the Daepung International Investment Group and director of the Daesong International Group. We should also mention Korean-Chinese businessmen (like for example Park Chol Su) who are participating to the development of North Korean Special Economic Zones

Many members of the North Korean elite were born, lived, and worked in China (O Kuk Ryol was born in Jilin, China),  especially in the regions of Shanghai and Beijing. Some of them are still managing branches of North Korean restaurants and of North Korean companies. Many high-ranking North Koreans are also buying properties in China. Some of them studied in China or were educated in economics in Chinese universities. This group of elites is on the central economic stage in Pyongyang and are managing the actual reforms of the North Korean economic system. These elites have to overcome, however, a number of internal constraints related especially to raw materials. This is why they favor the development of projects related to energy and infrastructure. Lifelong ties between North Korea and China still have a bright future.

Kim Jong Il Under the Red Arches of the “Little Forbidden City” in Shenyang (directly adjacent to the city’s smashing new market for luxury goods), Liaoning province, 2010; photo courtesy Naenara, via Spelunker

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Une nouvelle Corée du Nord ?

Le discours de la nouvelle année de Kim Jong Eun a été analysé comme étant une bombe en comparaison de ce qu’avait pour habitude de faire Kim Jong Il. Cependant une erreur fondamentale a été commise par un certain nombre d’analystes : il ne faut pas comparer Kim Jong Eun à son prédécesseur mais à son grand-père, Kim Il Sung : en effet Kim Jong Eun cherche à s’identifier à son grand-père (un héros en Corée du Nord) et non à son père (un leader mal vu en Corée du Nord). En comparant alors le discours de Kim Il Sung et de Kim Jong Eun, on s’aperçoit alors que ceux-ci sont relativement similaires (en 1994 devait se dérouler un sommet Corée du Nord/Corée du Sud, en 2012 Kim Jong Eun appelle à la réconciliation sur la Péninsule Coréenne).

Peut-on alors parler de changements ? Oui sur le plan économique, non sur le plan politique et social

Oui sur le plan économique

En observant ce qui se passe en Corée du Nord, nombreux sont-ceux qui croient que le système change au sein de ce pays, il existe même des analystes qui pensent qu’il y’a de vrais réformateurs en Corée du Nord. Je pense personnellement qu’il existe en effet des nord-coréens qui sont prêts a réformer le pays cependant cela ne signifie pas que la Corée du Nord deviendra démocratique. Libéralisation économique ne signifie pas libéralisation politique. Quel pays nous confirme cela ? Je pense tout particulièrement aux pays d’Asie Centrale ou la libéralisation économique n’est pas allée de paire avec la libéralisation démocratique.  Qui sont les artisans de ces changements a niveau économique ? Il s’agit des technocrates suivants qui sont chargés du contrôle de l’économie nord-coréenne : Kwak Pom Gi (directeur du département de planification de l’économie nord-coréenne), Ro Tu Chol (vice-premier ministre nord-coréen), Choe Ryong Rim (le premier ministre nord-coréen), Pak Pong Ju (un économiste nord-coréen qui s’est rendu plusieurs fois en Europe), Cha Chol Ma (un homme politique qui est homme d’affaires à ses heures perdus), Jon Song Hun (un homme d’affaires nord-coréen ouvert à l’internationale) ainsi qu’une ribambelle de militaires (Kim Jong Gak, Kim Yong Chun). Quels sont leurs traits communs ? Ils sont tous relativement jeunes (excepté certains militaires), ont voyagé à l’étranger, ont été promus par Kim Jong Il. Que cherchent ils à faire ? Implémenter des réformes économiques qui ne nécessitent pas de changements sociaux profonds. Ces réformes sont tout particulièrement implémentées à Pyongyang mais également dans d’autres grandes villes nord-coréennes.


Des réformateurs nord-coréens ? Ro Tu Chol (premier à gauche), Choe Yong Rim (deuxième en partant de la gauche)

Les entités qui gèrent l’économie nord-coréenne ne sont plus les même que dans le passé. L’économie était fortement sous le contrôle de l’Armée. D’après des documents que j’ai pu analyser et selon l’avis de certains experts de la Corée du Nord, des sociétés qui étaient sous le contrôle de l’armée sont à présent sous le contrôle d’organisations paramilitaires ou liées directement au Parti du Travail Coréen. Ces changements au sein des directions de ces entités économiques se sont avérés être nécessaires afin de pouvoir faciliter la mise en place de Joint-Ventures entre ces entités et…des partenaires étrangers. Pour l’instant la route est dure mais restons optimistes : avec un peu de (bonne) volonté, l’économie nord-coréenne peut se développer rapidement

Non sur le plan politique et social

A ce niveau, la Corée du Nord n’évolue pas fondamentalement : en raison de réformes économiques plus ou moins profondes, on a pu relever des brisures au sein du système de sécurité nord-coréen. C’est pourquoi Kim Jong Un cherche actuellement à renforcer le contrôle de la population nord-coréenne qui profit d’un instant de répit avec une amélioration de la situation économique de leurs pays. Le renforcement du contrôle des citoyens est également dû à une baisse de morale de la population qui est de plus en plus agacée par la situation économique et notamment par le fait qu’elle sait ce qui se passe hors de ses frontières.