Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
UPDATE: Yonhap, citing an unnamed South Korean [ROK] government source, reported on 18 December (Tuesday) that the mystery man at the memorial events is most likely Choe Chun Sik, who serves as Director of the Second National Academy of Sciences [SANS], an agency subordinate to the Korean Workers’ Party [KWP] Machine-Building Industry Department. SANS is involved in the research and development of rockets and missiles and provided the experts and technicians involved in 12 December 2012 launch of the U’nha-3. SANS headquarters are located near the Sanum-dong Research and Development campus in Pyongyang from where the rocket and component parts were shipped to the Sohae Space Center in early November.
Pyongyang watchers and the South Korean media are puzzling over the identity of a man observed to be on Kim Jong Un’s side at the 16 December memorial service and the 17 December visit and ceremony at Ku’msusan Memorial Palace. During the national memorial service commemorating the one-year anniversary of the death of DPRK leader Kim Jong Il, the mystery man was seated on the platform (rostrum) at Pyongyang Indoor Stadium at KJU’s left. At the ceremony inaugurating the renovation of the Ku’msusan Memorial Palace, the same man stands at KJU’s right on the platform overlooking the Ku’msusan plaza. During the leadership’s visit inside Ku’msusan, the man stands on KJU’s right. The mystery man appears to displace Choe Ryong Hae, Director of the Korean People’s Army [KPA] General Political Department, and stands along side other members of the Korean Workers’ Party Political Bureau. In a report about KJU’s visit to Ku’msusan Yonhap says that ” North Korean figures’ positions at official events are key signs indicating their ranks and levels of importance in the regime.”
It is highly likely the man is from the Korean Committee for Space Technology [KCST] and was a key official in the 12 December 2012 launch of the U’nha-3. When Kim Jong Un visited the Sohae Space Center, DPRK state media reported that he invited personnel “to come to Pyongyang and visit together with him Kim Jong Il who lies in state at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to make a report to him on the successful launch of the satellite.” State media reported on 15 December (Saturday) KCST personnel arrived in Pyongyang by train. They were presented with floral bouquets and greeted by “members of the Political Bureau, secretaries, first vice department directors, vice department directors and other officials of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and commanding officers of the Korean People’s Army,” before being bused to their accommodation. Between 2009 and 2012, there have been a number of events held in Pyongyang to honor exemplary workers from the provinces, war veterans and participants inmeetings of national Workers’ Organizations. For each of these events, a few members of the Political Bureau, Secretariat or DPRK Government either greeted these various honorees and meeting participants at the railway station or visited them at their accommodation. However, in this extraordinary circumstance a number of unnamed senior officials were dispatched to the railway station to receive the KCST personnel. KCNa news items on the memorial events attended by KJU gave the KCST personnel prominent coverage in the attendance lists. All of this attention by DPRK state media and DPRK leadership may underscore the mystery’s man’s role in the U’nha-3 launch, his institutional affiliation and why he was allowed to jump the queue at the memorial events.
KCNA’s English report about the Ku’msusan ceremony had one unusual name in its list of DPRK leadership in attendance: Choe Chun Sik. Mr. Choe is listed after all other KWP Political Bureau Members and Alternates (candidate members) in attendance. Choe is an alternate (candidate member) of the KWP Central Committee. Whilst I labor through a search of my documents in my MacBook Pro, hard drives and notes to see what Mr. Choe’s daily responsibilities are, a quick and dirty search revealed that Choe Chun Sik was listed at #155 on the KJI National Funeral Committee List reported on 19 December 2011. Mr. Chun is listed one spot above Ri Je Son (#156), the Director-General of the DPRK General Department of Atomic Energy. If the mystery man at KJU’s side is Choe Chun Sik, it is likely he was listed last because he is neither a member nor alternate of the KWP Political Bureau and DPRK news writers listed the attendees according to their Political Bureau hierarchy. Choe’s attendance was likely a last-minute addition. His appearance at KJU’s side reflected his status as an honored guest at the memorial events, but because he is not (as yet, any way) a Political Bureau member/alternate, his name is listed further down in state media reporting. This practice in DPRK news reporting is similar to coverage of KPA field inspections or guidance tours in which the commanding officers or local managers/party officials are seen at KJU’s side, but their names are listed separately or unreported altogether from the list of senior officials in KJU’s entourage.