Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
updated and revised September 20, 2016
Choe Thae Bok (Ch’oe T’ae-pok) is Workers’ Party of Korea [WPK] Vice Chairman for Science and Education) and Speakers [chairman] of the Supreme People’s Assembly. Choe is also a member of the WPK Political Bureau and member of the WPK Central Committee. A chemist by training, he has been a member of the party leadership since the mid-1980s and regularly travels outside the country to meet with the DPRK’s allies abroad. Choe was an adviser to late DPRK leader Kim Jong Il (Kim Cho’ng-il) for nearly three decades and one of the most popular members of the central leadership.
After completing his education, Choe worked as a school teacher. In 1959, he became a guidance instructor in the WPK Education Department. Choe returned to research and teaching around 1961, when he joined the faculty of the Hamhu’ng Chemical Engineering College. In 1965 he was appointed director of research for the Hamhung branch of the Chemical Research Institute in the National Academy of Sciences. In 1968 Choe was appointed dean of Hamhu’ng Chemical Engineering College. In 1972 he was appointed section chief in the WPK Education Department, where he helped to establish the monolithic ideological guidance system in the DPRK’s education system.
In the late 1970s he appointed Dean of the Faculty and President of Kim Ch’aek University of Technology. In the 1980’s he served successively and concurrently as Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Education Commission and Minister of Higher Education. Choe was responsible for a number of policy initiatives in science education and expansion of cultural exchanges and other programs for DPRK students to study outside the country.
Choe Thae Bok was first elected a deputy (delegate) to the Supreme People’s Assembly [SPA] in 1982 and led an SPA delegation on an official visit to France in November the same year. In the 1980s Choe made a number of trips outside the DPRK including to Malta (1982), Russia (1984), Germany (1984), PRC (1985), Bulgaria (1985) and Tanzania (1986). Choe was elected an alternate (candidate) member of the Party Central Committee at its 9th plenum (6th Term/6th CC) in 1984.
He was elected to full (regular) WPK Central Committee membership as well as WPK Secretary [Secretariat] at the 12th plenum (6th Term/6th CC) on 27 December 1986. Choe was elected an alternate (candidate) member of the Political Bureau at the 18th plenum (6th Term/6th CC) on 23 May 1990. As a party secretary Choe had responsibilities in education, science and cultural and technical exchanges. During 1993 and 1994 Choe temporarily assumed some of the job functions of then-WPK International Secretary, Kim Yong Sun (Kim Yo’ng-sun).
Choe was elected Chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly at the 1st plenum of the 10th SPA in September 1998. As both SPA Chairman and WPK Secretary, Choe regularly travels outside the DPRK. He represented the DPRK at a parliamentary conference at the UN Geneva in July 2010 where he also met with members of the Iranian, Cuban, Syrian and PRC leadership on the sidelines. Choe also led a WPK delegation to the PRC on 30 November, one week after the Yo’np’yo’ng Island attack in ROK on 23 November.
Choe was elected to full membership on the Political Bureau at the September 2010 Plenary Meeting of the WPK Central Committee and was a rostrum member at the 3rd Party Conference on 28 September 2010. On 29 March 2011 the DPRK press reported on Choe’s arrival in London. Choe delivered a speech at a private event hosted by a UK policy organization.
Choe has held about the same position in the regime for two decades. Regardless of whether Choe (and his reportedly progressive views) finds favor with the center, he enjoys a certain affection and popularity from thousands of DPRK students who were educated abroad in the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Choe is a reputed protégé of Yang Hyong-so’p [SPA Presidium Vice President]. He also had close ties to Kim Kyong Hui (Kim Kyo’ng-hu’i) and the late Jon Pyong Ho (Cho’n Pyong-ho), former WPK Secretary and Director of Munitions Industry.
Choe Thae Bok was born in Namp’o, South P’yo’ngan, in 1930. He was one of the first matriculates of the Mangyo’ngdae Revolutionary School. He graduated from Kim Il Sung University and completed coursework at Leipzig Engineering College (now part of the Leipzig University of Applied Sciences) around 1952 and Moscow State University in 1954.
In addition to Korean, he speaks fluent German, Russian and English. Choe Thae Bok is intelligent with an upbeat, cheerful personality.
Choe Thae Bok
WPK Vice Chairman for Science and Education
Member, WPK Political Bureau
Chairman, Supreme People’s Assembly
Member, WPK Central Committee
Kim Il Song University
Leipzig College of Engineering
Moscow State University
1959: Guidance Instructor, WPK Education Department
1961: Professor, Hamhu’ng Chemical Engineering College
1965: Director, Research Institute, Hamhu’ng Branch, National Academy of Sciences
1968: Dean, Hamhu’ng Chemical Engineering College
1972: Section Chief, WPK Education Department
1976: Deputy Director, WPK Education Department
1978: President, Kim Ch’aek University of Technology
1980: Chairman, Education Commission, DPRK Cabinet
1981: Minister of Higher Education
Chairman, DPRK-Bulgaria Friendship Association
1982: Deputy, 7th SPA
1984: Elected, Alternate (candidate) Member, 6th WPK Central Committee
1986: Deputy, 8th SPA
1986: Elected, Member, 6th WPK Central Committee
1990: Deputy, 9th SPA
Elected, Alternate (candidate) Member, Political Bureau
1992: Director, CC KWP Science Education Department
1993: Chairman, Korean Solidarity Committee for the World’s People
1994: Member, Kim Il-song Funeral Committee (#15)
1998: Deputy, 10th SPA
2003: Deputy, 11th SPA
2005: Member, Yon Hyong Muk Funeral Committee
2008: Member, Pak Song Chol Funeral Committee
2009: Deputy, 12th SPA
Chairman, 12th SPA
2010: (April) Member, Kim Jung Rin Funeral Committee
Elected, Member, Political Bureau
(November) Member, Jo Myong Rok Funeral Committee
2011: (December) Member, Kim Jong Il Funeral Committee
2013: (December) Member, Kim Kuk Thae Funeral Committee
2014: (March) Elected, deputy, 13th Supreme People’s Assembly
(April) Chairman, Supreme People’s Assembly
(July) Member, Jo Pyong Ho Funeral Committee
2015: (November) Member, Ri Ul Sol Funeral Committee
(December) Member, Kim Yang Gon Funeral Committee
2016: (May) Elected, Member, 7th WPK Central Committee
Elected, Member, WPK Political Bureau
Elected, WPK Vice Chairman
DPRK Policy Elites (Alexandria, VA: IDA, 2004)
“Biographic Information on 100 Officials,” Wolkan Kyonghyang, September 21, 1989
“Narrative Biographies of DPRK Figures,” Seoul Sindong-A, January 1995 pp 210-278
“N. Korea Speaker Makes Rare Address in the West,” AFP, March 29, 2011
“Senior N. Korean Official Accuses South of Provoking Tension,” Arirang News, July 21, 2010 http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2010/07/21/2010072100687.html
“SPA Chairman to Visit China,” NHK, November 28, 2010
Yonhap News Agency. The North Korea Handbook (Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe, 2003) p. 770