Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
Kim Jong Un’s last observed appearance was his visit to the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces
DPRK state media reported on January 11 (Monday) that Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) met with scientists, technicians, Korean People’s Army [KPA] logistics and construction personnel and managers involved in the country’s fourth nuclear weapons test at the Workers’ Party of Korea [WPK] Central Committee Office Building #1 in central Pyongyang. Attending the meeting and photo-op with him were Ri Man Gon (Director of the WPK Machine-Building [military industry] Department), Ri Pyong Chol (senior deputy [1st vice] director of the WPK Organization Guidance Department), Pak To Chun (senior deputy director of the WPK Machine-Building Industry Department and immediate past WPK Secretary of Machine-Building Industry) and Hong Sung Mu (deputy director of the WPK Machine-Building Industry Department and head of the Nuclear Bureau).
Jong Un’s arrival was greeted with enthusiasm, which he returned with “warm greetings” and a wave. According to KCNA, he “highly appreciated nuclear scientists, technicians, soldier-builders, workers and officials for having glorified the immortal exploits performed by President Kim Il Sung (Kim Il-so’ng) and leader Kim Jong Il (Kim Cho’ng-il) in developing the Chuch’e-oriented defense industry by succeeding in the first H-bomb test of Chuch’e Korea, and brought about a great event to be specially recorded in the national history spanning 5,000 years.” Kim Jong Un posed for a commemorative photograph with the nuclear test contributors and participants. He expressed “expectation and conviction that they will make uninterrupted advance and innovation and thus achieve greater success in the scientific researches for bolstering up the nuclear deterrent for self-defense.”
The KCNA report indirectly revealed a personnel change in the management of the DPRK’s WMD and space programs. Ri Man Gon, a former deputy director of the WPK Organization Guidance Department and previously the chief secretary of the North P’yo’ngan WPK Provincial Committee, is the new director of the WPK Machine-Building Industry Department [MBID] (formerly known as the WPK Munitions Industry Department or WPK Military Industries Department). North P’yo’ngan Province, where Ri served as the party’s regional boss, is the location of the Nyo’ngbyo’n Nuclear Scientific Research Center (in addition to other nuclear-related facilities), the Sohae space and launch facility and a number of factories and small facilities which contribute to the DPRK’s space, missile and nuclear weapons programs. Ri Man Gon was listed #29 on the state funeral committee for Kim Yang Gon released in late December 2015, along with other WPK Central Committee Department Directors. Ri Man Gon replaces Kim Chun Sop, who was previously identified as the MBID director and who was listed #34 on the Ri Ul Sol state funeral committee released in early November 2015 with other WPK Central Committee Department Directors. Kim Chun Sop was also a member of the DPRK National Defense Commission [NDC]; it is likely he will be replaced on the NDC by Ri when the Supreme People’s Assembly meets later this year. In addition to Ri Man Gon’s new position, we can also see that Pak To Chun migrated as a member of the WPK Secretariat to the position of senior deputy director of the MBID; while this would seem to be a demotion, as a senior deputy director of a party department Pak now has greater involvement in the day-to-day operations of the DPRK’s military industrial complex.