first_img Analysis & Opinion AvatarDaily NKQuestions or comments about this article? Contact us at [email protected] Facebook Twitter Analysis & Opinion Choi Ju Hal, president of the Association of North Korean Defectors. Image: Daily NK Tracking the “unidentified yellow substance” being dried out near the Yongbyon Nuclear Center SHARE Kim Yong Chol was recently promoted to director of the United Front Department in North Korea. He has a reputation forbeing an intelligent and cunning strategist. Before rising to his currentposition, Kim Yong Chol served a long career in the Reconnaissance Bureau,where he used alliances and cunning to climb his way to the top despite comingfrom lowly origins. We got the chance to sit down with Choi Ju Hal, president of the Association of North Korean Defectors, an NGO based in Seoul which is dedicated to thedemocratization of North Korea. Because he got the chance to meet Kim Yong Cholon countless occasions before he defected to the South, Choi Ju Hal hasunparalleled insights into the mind and backstory of Kim Yong Chol, as well assome insight into what changes might come with his new appointment, including apotential power struggle with the military.     Q. How did you come to meet Kim Yong Chol? I spent time around Kim Yong Chol from themiddle of the 1980s until 1995. I came to know a man named Ro Sung Il who wasin the same division as Kim Yong Chol for ten years. After ten years of workingtogether, Ro Sung Il was transferred over to the the external affairs divisionwithin the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, where I was stationed. Ro Sung Il and Kim Yong Chol were in the Reconnaissance Bureau stationed in SouthPyongan Province’s Hoechang County. They graduated from a foreign languageschool there in 1966. This training school was intended to produce spies whocould use their foreign language abilities to gather intel for theReconnaissance Bureau. Kim Yong Chol learned Chinese there. After he rose inthe ranks in the Reconnaissance Bureau–eventually to the top– he would stopby the foreign affairs division within the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces tochat with his old pal, Ro Sung Il. I was able to listen in to a lot of theirconversations and generally just observe his behavior when he came by. Q. Can you tell us a bit about what kind ofperson Kim Yong Chol is in your experience? He is a very intelligent person. He’s thekind of guy that knows how to accomplish the task no matter what obstacles comehis way. However, he did have a fatal flaw: less than ideal songbun [loyaltyranking determined by family pedigree, loyalty, etc]. He even had somerelatives go over to China. Therefore, after graduation, many of the studentsfrom the language training school at the Reconnaissance Bureau were dispatchedoverseas to do work, but Kim Yong Chol was never given that prestigiousopportunity. That was why he came to my former workplace so frequently. He waslooking for opportunities to get sent abroad. But he never got that chance. From that point on, he changed hisstrategy. He was determined to win through sheer skill alone. He began to seethe fruits of this labor around 1980. At that time, there were bi-weeklylectures scheduled for Saturdays. The lectures targeted two groups split byrank: the first comprised Party secretaries and military generals; the second,officers at the colonel level or higher and Cabinet directors. At that time, KimYong Chol was not in a head position; however, he gave lectures at the higherlevel meetings. The lectures normally lasted from one to two hours. Withoutlooking at his script even a single time, Kim Yong Chol would speak at lengthabout South Korean politics, the military situation, etc. All without missing abeat. He knew the name and rank of all the relevant South Korean militarycommanders, the locations of Southern units, and strategy estimates. Q. Do you think that this intelligence iswhat enabled Kim Yong Chol to quickly move upwards through the ranks despitehis poor songbun? I think that that is the case. However,there was another important factor that explains the upwards trajectory of KimYong Chol’s career. That factor is Jang Song Thaek’s older brother, Jang SungWoo. He was serving as chief of the Reconnaissance Bureau at the time. He usedKim Yong Chol as his right hand man and assistant. He helped Kim Yong Chol tomove up in the world. In order to gain the confidence of Kim Il Sung and KimJong Il, Kim Yong Chol began to appear as a reserve for high level North-Southsummits in February of 1989 and appeared in the support delegation for theSeptember 1990 High Level Summit meeting with the South. At the summit, Kim IlSung was reported to say about Kim Yong Chol, “He’s a very bright guy.” Kim Yong Chol was promoted quickly afterthat point. In 1991, he moved up to deputy director at the ReconnaissanceBureau. I think he took the name ‘Kim Yong Chol’ around that time as well. Hisreal name is Kim Dong Su. Kim Il Sung was supposed to have used many falsenames in his younger days as a resistance fighter. Kim Il Sung supposedlythought it might be nice to use the name ‘Kim Yong Chol,’ according to what KimYong Chol told Ro Sung Il who later informed me. Q. It’s interesting that Jang Sung Wooassisted Kim Yong Chol. We know that Jang Sung Woo wasn’t always on good termswith his brother. Did the acrimony of their relationship affect Kim Yong Cholat all? Even if that wasn’t the case, Jang Sung Woogot demoted in 1988. At that time, Kim Yong Chol’s position must have been atrisk as well, given their close connection. But Kim Yong Chol was capable ofconducting himself well despite this. For example, even though he was empoweredby supporters around him, he earned compliments from Kim Il Sung and Kim JongIl through his own hard work. I think that Kim Jong Un probably takes note ofKim Yong Chol’s abilities. There isn’t a single person who could fill hisshoes. After rising to the deputy directorposition at the Reconnaissance Bureau, he worked there for ten years. Then hegot promoted again to director. Even if you thoroughly go through North Koreanhistory, I don’t think you’ll find another person working for this long attheir post. It just doesn’t happen. I think this is the biggest indicator ofjust how well received and supported he is by the Kim family. Q. Kim Yong Chol is known to have a toughstance towards South Korea. We also know that he butts heads with Kim Yang Gon,who served as the head of the United Front Department. Now that Kim Yong Cholhas been promoted to director of the United Front Department, what do you thinkis going to happen? Because Kim Yong Chol is not only thedirector of the United Front Department, but also the Secretary of Relationswith the South, there is a strong possibility that he will have outsizedinfluence. Normally the director of the United Front Department has the rightto carry out the strategy that has been laid out by the Party. Normally, theUnited Front Department and the Reconnaissance Bureau do not fully understandwhat sort of work the other departments do. But Kim Young has experience in theReconnaissance Bureau. I think this means that as he transitions over to theUnited Front Department, he will also continue to use the strategies andorganizational methods he used at the Reconnaissance Bureau. He will take thelessons from the planning and research departments of his old job with him intohis new role. Of course, in doing so, there is the riskthat he might run into conflict with the military. But this is a bright andclever person we’re talking about. He might be able to leverage Kim Jong Un’ssupport for him in order to totally change the way that the United FrontDepartment works. In that scenario, we will see a shift away from the methodsand style of former Director Kim Yang Gon and towards the style of Kim YongChol.   Q. Can you give us an example of this? When I was in North Korea, the United FrontDepartment worked to incite revolution through the use of the pro-PyongyangGeneral Association of Korean Residents in Japan, better known as Chochongnyon,and other Koreans living abroad. They tried to instigate the South and set up aspy network here through those methods. Because Kim Yong Chol comes from amilitary background, there is a chance he might use military provocations toachieve these goals. But such actions are traditionally in the purview ofthe military, so we’ll have to see how Kim Yong Chol works that out.  RELATED ARTICLESMORE FROM AUTHOR Analysis & Opinion Is Nuclear Peace with North Korea Possible? Analysis & Opinion By Daily NK – 2016.02.04 2:18pm Former colleague offers personal insights into Kim Yong Chol’s rise to the top brass Pence Cartoon: “KOR-US Karaoke”last_img read more