Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
DPRK state media reported on January 23 (Saturday) that nearly 13,000 party and Korean People’s Army [KPA] officials, cadres and “youth shock brigade” workers and other construction personnel received the Paektusan (Mount Paektu) Hero Youth Power Station Construction Commemorative Medal following a January 6 decision by the Supreme People’s Assembly [SPA] Presidium. Various parts of the power station have been under construction for over a decade.
During the fall of 2015, Kim Jong Un conducted a field inspection on the progress of the construction work of the power station’s dams #1 and #2, and subsequently delivered a speech to formally open that part of the power station. The progress on the construction of dams #1 and #2 was questionable. There is a very good possibility that subordinate party and KPA officials were creatively deceptive in their progress reports to Jong Un, largely owing to pressure from The Center to have this phase of the Paektusan Power Station’s construction complete for the 70th anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea [WPK].
The power station and the status of its construction caused internal political drama. According to various sources in the DPRK and the ROK, slipshod work on the power station temporarily sidelined Choe Ryong Hae. As WPK Secretary for Workers’ and Social Organizations, Choe was the responsible official in charge of the construction under the auspices of the Kim Il Sung Youth League supplying most of the labor. In mid-October 2015, after celebrations for the WPK’s 70th anniversary, Choe disappeared from the DPRK’s political culture and was sent away for re-education. There are conflicting accounts about Choe’s re-education experience, with some sources claiming he was sent to a cooperative farm and others claiming he was toiling away in a coal mine.
In any event, Choe Ryong Hae’s name next appeared in DPRK state media on December 29, 2015 when his name was listed on the state funeral committee for Kim Yang Gon. Choe did not make a physical appearance until January 16, 2016 when he attended and spoke at a national meeting commemorating the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Kim Il Sung Youth League. So, between Choe’s name resurfacing in state media and his resumption of his public duties as a WPK Secretary, people under his purview were given a state award. Another interesting circumstance, which could be indicative of nothing, is that the DPRK conducted its fourth nuclear test on the same day that the SPA Presidium created this special state award.