Choe Ryong Hae
CHOE Ryong Hae is chief of state (since 11 April 2019). As Supreme People's Assembly President, he functions as the technical head of state and performs related duties, such as receiving ambassadors' credentials. According to the constitution edited in 2016, the Supreme People's Assembly is the highest organ of state power and the unicameral legislature. Choe Ryong Haee (a.k.a. CH’OE, Ryong-hae); DOB 15 Jan 1950; is reportedly seen as the “Number Two” official with control over the party, government, and military. His son reportedly married Kim Jong Un's younger sister, the increasingly influential Kim Yo Jong.
By 2019 Choe Ryong Hae was the vice chairman for organization for the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and the director of the WPK Organization and Guidance Department (OGD). He was also vice chairman of the State Affairs Commission, a member of several powerful WPK committees including the WPK Central Committee Political Bureau Presidium, and a deputy to the Supreme People’s Assembly. The OGD, a Party oversight body, is possibly the most powerful organization inside the DPRK. The OGD is instrumental in implementing the DPRK’s censorship policies. When a party official deviates from the official message in public remarks, the OGD will dispatch an official to monitor a self-criticism session. The OGD also assumes oversight responsibilities of organizations undergoing party audits to inspect for ideological discipline.
The Korean Workers Party top institution is the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Central Committee, sometimes translated as “Presidium”. As of 2019, the Standing Committee consisted of four members. The first was Kim Jong Un, the second was Kim Yong Nam, the third was Choe Ryong Hae, and the fourth was Pak Pong Ju. As in China, this order is kept during all official messages.
Choe is directly descended from Choe Hyon, one of Kim Il Sung’s closest comrades-in-arm who fought with Kim Il-sung as a partisan. Choe Ryong Hae’s father, who died in 1982, was also the Minister of People’s Armed Forces and by some reports, the key figure in Kim Jong Il’s ascent to power.
Born in 1950, Choe held senior leadership positions in the Korean Socialist Labour Youth League. He led several North Korean youth delegations in the 1980s, visiting for visits to Russia, Libya and China. Soon after Kim Jong Il came to power, Choe apparently suffered a setback. In 1998 he was removed from the position of First Secretary of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League's Central Committee. The shift was officially for "health" reasons but there were reportedly accusations of illegally using his position to sell scrap metal to China. He was sent down to the countryside for reeducation.
Around 2003 Choe was restored to power, and in 2006, he was given the position of secretary of the North Hamgyong Province. In 2010, he was promoted to the rank of a four-star general. At the third party conference in 2010, he was appointed a secretary in the KWP Central Committee, a member of the CMC and an alternate member of the Politburo.
At the fourth party conference, he rose to the Presidium of the Politburo and vice chairman of the CMC. In April 2012, he was made a vice marshal and appointed to the NDC along with Gen Kim Won-hong, where they joined Lee Myong-su and other existing members, ensuring that the NDC was manned by individuals from all of the key institutions in the country: the military, the party, the security services, and of course, loyal Kim family members.
In May 2013 speculation focused on North Korean special envoy Choe Ryong-hae's meetings with top Chinese leaders in Beijing. In The Beijing News, Wang Junsheng, a North Korea expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a top government think-tank, saif the envoy's visit ess tantamount to North Korea announcing that its "vainly-attempted model of 'leading China by the nose'" was a mistake and not feasible.
Ta Kung Pao, a Beijing-backed Hong Kong daily, believed that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's real aim in sending a special envoy is to talk up bilateral friendship in order to "get more bargaining chips" from "elder brother" China ahead of six-party talks. Zhang Liangui, a communist party school professor, ess also sceptical about Mr Choe's assurances to Liu Yunshan, who ess ranked fifth in the Communist Party hierarchy, that North Korea will heed Beijing's advice on starting dialogue with other parties to ease tensions.
In late February / early March 2014 there were rumors that he had been arrested, rumors which were disproved when he appeared in public after several weeks of absence. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met on November 20, 2014 with Choe Ryong-hae, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s special envoy and a member of the Politburo of the Workers’ Party of Korea. After the meeting, Lavrov announced North Korea is ready to resume the six-party nuclear talks (Six Party Talks) “without conditions.” Negotiations were suspended in 2009.
Choe appeared once again to be sent away for re-education in October 2015 when he was removed from the Standing Committee and demoted to a regular Politburo member. This was reportedly the work of arch-rival Hwang Pyong So. But Choe Ryong Hae reclaimed his position in the Standing Committee in 2016, and engineered the expulsion of Hwang Pyong So from the Standing Committee in 2017.
On December 10, 2018 the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated three individuals in response to the North Korean regime’s ongoing and serious human rights abuses and censorship. “Treasury is sanctioning senior North Korean officials who direct departments that perpetrate the regime’s brutal state-sponsored censorship activities, human rights violations and abuses, and other abuses in order to suppress and control the population. These sanctions demonstrate the United States’ ongoing support for freedom of expression, and opposition to endemic censorship and human rights abuses,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “The United States has consistently condemned the North Korean regime for its flagrant and egregious abuses of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and this Administration will continue to take action against human rights abusers around the globe.”
On 12 April 2019 North Korea named a new head of state, replacing a senior leader charged with representing Pyongyang in international engagements. Choe Ryong Hae was named President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea during the first session of the 14th Supreme People's Assembly. Choe, 69, has deep ties with the ruling Kim family and was recently sanctioned by the United States.
Choe replaced Kim Yong Nam, who held the position for almost 20 years. Kim, 91, appeared in a number of international engagements last year, including summits–held separately– between leader Kim Kong-un and US President Donald Trump; Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
The person holding the position is technically considered North Korea's head of state and usually represents the country at diplomatic events. The real power, however, is known to remain concentrated in leader Kim Jong-un's hands.
North Korea's second-in-command Choe Ryong-hae conducted an emergency virus inspection of Gaeseong, the city where a defector from the South who reportedly had COVID-19 symptoms returned to on 18 July 2020. The North's state-run Korean Central News Agency reported that Choe inspected antivirus efforts in the city that has been on lockdown since 24 July 2020. He ordered local officials to make sure food and medical supplies are provided for residents and that disease prevention measures be strictly practiced. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un put the North on a "maximum emergency system" on Saturday following the defector's return.
North Korean authorities have set up quarantine checkpoints inside Gaeseong as well as train and bus stations in the reclusive state, while making it mandatory for its citizens to wear face masks and wash their hands. North Korea has expressed concern about the possible entry of COVID-19 into the country after a defector returned from South Korea reportedly displaying symptoms, but continues to claim no confirmed cases have been detected within its borders. The North's official Rodong Sinmun said the country still boasts zero coronavirus infections. It warned, however, that carelessness could lead to an unimaginable and irreparably fatal crisis.
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