Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
On 22 September 2012 DPRK state media reported on a series of commemorations of the anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Suk (Kim Cho’ng-suk), mother of the the late supreme leader Kim Jong Il (Kim Cho’ng-il), Korean Workers’ Party [KWP] Secretary and Political Bureau Member Kim Kyong Hui (Kim Kyo’ng-hu’i) and paternal grandmother of the current DPRK supreme leader Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n). One of those commemorations occurred at the Kim Jong Suk Naval University, located approximately 8 km (5 miles) northeast of the Hu’ngnam district in Hamhu’ng, South Hamgyo’ng Province. Delivering a floral basket to the Kim Jong Suk statue on the naval university’s campus was Tae Jong Su (T’ae Cho’ng-su), along with Kim Yong Gyu (Kim Yo’ng-kyu), a secretary of the South Hamgyo’ng Provincial KWP Committee. Given this recent media appearance, and his career trajectory since Kim Jong Un’s formal accession in January 2012, Tae Jong Su seems to have returned to his former position as the party’s leading official in South Hamgyo’ng.
Tae served as Chief Secretary of the South Hamgyo’ng Provincial KWP Committee from August 2009 to June 2010. During his relatively short tenure as the party boss in South Hamgyo’ng, Tae accompanied Kim Jong Il on a series of guidance tours and supervised the reopening of the 8 February Vinalon Complex. Tae later spoke at a March 2010 mass outdoor rally in central Hamhu’ng which included an uncharacteristic appearance by Kim Jong Il. In June 2010, Tae was appointed director of the KWP’s General Affairs Department, a unit of the central party which delivers instructions, policies and other official documents on behalf of the center. The positions of GAD director had been vacant for a number of year prior to Tae’s appointment.
Tae traveled to China with KJI in August 2010 and was seen talking with KJI at a tour of a Chinese chemical fiber factory. At the 3rd Party Conference on 28 September 2010 Tae was elected an alternate (candidate) member of the KWP Political Bureau and Secretary for General Affairs. After that, he blended in with other members of the central leadership attending public events in Pyongyang and accompanying KJI and KJU on guidance tours and attending concerts with them. Tae traveled to China with KJI during 19 to 28 May 2011 and later visited China for five days in July 2011, leading a delegation on a study tour of geothermal energy sources and meeting with Chinese leadership, including Zhou Yongkang. Tae later traveled to the Russian Far East and China with KJI in August 2011.
When KJI died in December 2011, Tae Jong Su was listed at #22 on the National Funeral Committee. After Kim Jong Un’s formal transition in January 2012, Tae’s reported public appearances were largely restricted to attending concerts, KJI memorial events and a joint military exercise with other members of the central leadership. At a March 2012 concert by the U’nhasu Orchestra, Tae was seated next to Kim Rak Hui, a DPRK Cabinet Vice Premier and alternate member of the Political Bureau. Seated in front of Tae and Kim was Minister of State Security, Gen. Kim Wo’n-hong, and seated behind them was Military Security Command [MSC] chief, Col. Gen. Choe Kyong Chol. Kim Rak Hui was later quietly retired as DPRK Vice Premier and a Political Bureau alternate, ahead of the 5th session of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly and the 4th Party Conference in April 2012.
After attending a concert given by the State Merited Chorus (a.k.a Merited State Choir) with Kim Jong Un and other elites during late April 2012, Tae’s appearances in DPRK state media became rare. In June 2012 Tae was observed on a Korean Central Television [KCTV] news broadcast at Hamhu’ng Central Railway Station greeting participants returning from the the Korean Children’s Union [KCU] conference. Tae later resurfaced in Pyongyang during late July when he participated in a series of events for war veterans in commemoration of the end of active hostilities of the Fatherland Liberation War (Korean War). During a commemorative photo session at Pyongyang Indoor Stadium, Kim Jong Un cordially greeted and shook hands with Tae. However at that event, Tae was not part of KJU’s entourage which included other officials with similar positions to Tae’s. In KCNA’s English report on the commemorative photo session, Tae was the last Political Bureau alternate member listed by name.
Tae Jong Su’s recent media appearances suggest that he has returned to serving as the party’s leading official in South Hamgyo’ng Province. When Tae was appointed director of the General Affairs Department in June 2010, he was replaced by Kwak Pom Gi. Like Tae Jong Su, Kwak was a DPRK Cabinet Vice Premier with a background as a technocrat prior to his appointment. Like Tae, Kwak’s tenure in South Hamgyo’ng was also relatively brief; Tae held the position for eleven (11) months and Kwak held the position for 19 months.** At the 4th Party Conference this past April, Kwak was elected an alternate member of the Political Bureau and Secretary and Department Director of Finance and Planning. After Kwak’s appointment, it seems Tae Jong Su returned Hamhu’ng, although it is highly likely Tae retained his alternate status on the Political Bureau.
Traditionally, some of the Political Bureau’s members and alternates were from the provincial party organizations. After the 6th Party Congress in 1980, five of the Political Bureau’s members and alternates (Cho Se-ung; Hong So’ng-nam; Ri Ku’n-mo; So’ Yun-so’k; Kang Hu’i-wo’n) were party secretaries of either provincial or provincial-level city committees. Currently, the only Political Bureau alternate member from the KWP’s provincial organization is Mun Kyong Dok, the Chief Secretary of the Pyongyang KWP City (municipal) Committee. If Tae Jong Su is serving as South Hamgyo’ng chief party secretary, this would diversify the Political Bureau’s membership.
The larger question is whether this is represents a demotion or a lateral migration. Working as the party’s regional manager in South Hamgyo’ng places Tae in rough terrain. The locals have historically been difficult to work with and KPA forces in the area have been reported to get antsy. Conversely, the province received heavy promotion in DPRK editorials and essays. Given Tae’s background as a technocrat who has served in a number of Cabinet positions, the party center may have opted to put in an experienced bearer to carry the torch of the flames of Hamnam.
**Chief Secretaries of Korean Workers’ Party Provincial Committees have traditionally had long terms of office. For example, Kim P’yo’ng-hae was appointed Chief Secretary of the North P’yo’ngan Provincial KWP Committee in 1997 and held that position until he was appointed KWP Secretary and Director of Cadres’ Affairs (Personnel) in September 2010 Pak To-ch’un was appointed Chief Secretary of the Chagang Provincial KWP Committee in 2005 and held that position until he was appointed KWP Secretary of Machine-Building Industries in September 2010.