• Tue. Oct 3rd, 2023

Kim Jong Un Fires His Number Two in North Korea’s Military

ByJosh Taylor

Jan 2, 2023

North Korea has fired Pak Jong Chon, the country’s second most prominent military officer after leader Kim Jong Un, according to state media. Pak, vice chairman of the governing Worker’s Party’s Central Military Commission and secretary of the party’s Central Committee, was replaced by Ri Yong Gil during the committee’s annual meeting last week, according to the official KCNA news agency on Sunday.
There was no explanation for the modification. Pyongyang’s leadership is frequently reshuffled, and the year-end party meeting is frequently used to announce personnel reshuffles and key policy decisions.
During the meeting, Pak sat in the first row of the podium with his head down, while other members raised their hands to vote on personnel concerns. His seat was afterwards seen to be empty.
He was also missing from images posted on Monday by the official KCNA news agency of Kim’s New Year’s Day visit to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, which contains the corpses of his grandparents and father, unlike in October, when Pak accompanied Kim on a party anniversary visit to the palace.
The party’s Central Military Commission, led by Kim, is widely regarded as the country’s most powerful military decision-making body, ranking above the defense ministry.
Pak’s departure occurred as Kim advocated for the development of new intercontinental ballistic missiles and a greater nuclear arsenal to challenge the United States and South Korea as a major component of the isolated country’s defense plan through 2023. Pak rose quickly through the military ranks, from one-star artillery commander in 2015 to four-star general in 2020, claiming credit for advancing the country’s short-range missile capabilities.
Pak was elevated to the politburo in late 2020 and gained the title of marshal, the highest military rank under Kim, and became a major voice against joint South Korean-US military drills last November.
Pak, like most other key military advisers, was momentarily demoted in mid-2021 when Kim chastised several officials for their handling of North Korea’s anti-corona virus campaign, before being elevated again months later.
Pak’s removal comes despite Kim praising the military’s advancements in weapons development during the meeting, in contrast to other areas where he pointed out flaws and advocated for reform. Oh Gyeong-sup, a fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, believes a recent escalation in inter-Korean tensions over North Korean drones infiltrating the South may have had a role.
Officials in Seoul stated that in reaction to the infiltration, South Korea launched three drones across the border, but there was no response from the North, which Oh speculated may suggest that it failed to detect the aircraft. “Pak may have accepted responsibility for security efforts failing,” Oh speculated.
Ri, Pak’s successor, is a veteran military officer who previously held crucial roles such as head of the army’s general staff and defense minister.

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