Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae (born 15 January 1950) is a North Korean politician and military official who has served as President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly and First Vice Chairman of the State Affairs Commission since April 2019. He is also a member of the Presidium of the Politburo and Vice Chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK). He also served as Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un's military second-in-command.
Choe Ryong-hae was born in Sinchon County, South Hwanghae Province, on 15 January 1950 as the son of Choe Hyon, who served as defence minister of North Korea from 1968 to 1976. He joined the Korean People's Army in 1967 and graduated from the Kim Il-sung University as a political and economic expert.
In the 1980s, he was a leading member of the Socialist Working Youth League, being its vice-chairman from 1981 and chairman from 1986; when it was reformed into the Kim Il-sung Socialist Youth League in 1996, he was appointed its first secretary. In 1986, he was also elected deputy to the Supreme People's Assembly, member of the SPA Presidium and full member of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK). In the 1990s, he also led the DPRK Soccer Association and the Taekwando Association of Korean Youth. He was awarded the title Hero of the DPRK in 1993. He was replaced as first secretary of the Youth League by Ri Il-hwan at the 14th plenary meeting of the league's Central Committee (January 1998), officially "due to his illness". This was actually because routine party audits found he was selling scrap metal to foreign buyers without official permission. He was facing execution but Kim Kyong-hui, sister of then leader Kim Jong-il, intervened to save his life.
After facing re-education through labour, Choe was deputy director of the General Affairs Department of the WPK Central Committee, then chief secretary of the Hwanghae Province Party Committee from 2006 to 2010. In September 2010, during the 3rd Conference of the Workers' Party of Korea, he was promoted to KPA General as well as member of the WPK Secretariat and Central Military Commission, and Politburo alternate member. He was also appointed secretary for military affairs.
Choe didn't receive particular public attention until General Secretary Kim Jong-il's death in December 2011. Choe was then seen as a key asset in securing Kim Jong-un's leadership. In April 2012, he received important promotions to Vice Marshal, member of the Politburo Presidium of the WPK Central Committee, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, director of the KPA General Political Bureau and member of the National Defence Commission, largely filling the post left unoccupied by Jo Myong-rok's death and working as power broker for Kim Jong-un.
Choe Ryong-hae, considered a protégé of Jang Song-taek, is seen part of a plan by Kim Jong-un to restore Party control over the military after it was overturned by Kim Jong-il, particularly after Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho's dismissal. In fact, Choe does not have a strong military background and seems to support the employment of soldiers to build civilian facilities. The Chosun Ilbo reports that a diplomatic source said Choe is appointing Socialist Youth League members to key military posts and "has assumed control of various businesses run by the military, losing trust and loyalty among the troops." Choe's inspections are the only ones, besides Kim Jong-un's and the Premier's, to be reported nationwide by state media.
By December 2012, Choe was demoted from Vice Marshal to General, as he was listed KPA General at a national meeting marking the first death anniversary of Kim Jong-il on 16 December and at the inaugural ceremony of the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, though he wore KPA Vice Marshal insignia at the rally celebrating the successful Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 Unit 2 launch on 14 December. This would be concurrent with Hyon Yong-chol's demotion to the same rank and Kim Jong-gak's removal as defence minister, and may be a consequence of the powerful army's growing dissatisfaction over Choe's tenure. Choe was seen unexplainably wearing the Vice Marshal insignia again at a meeting in February 2013 and became Kim Jong-un's special envoy for strategic partner China.
In early 2014, Choe was noticeably absent from several public events that he normally would attend with the top leader. In March 2014, it was reported that Choe Ryong-hae had been jailed and was being interrogated. Choe was later seen in public walking with a limp.
He was appointed the first-ranking vice-chairman of the National Defence Commission in April 2014, apparently reinforcing his No. 2 position, but he was replaced by newly appointed Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so as chief of the KPA politburo, and was officially demoted from the NDC after only five months, thus ending his involvement in military affairs. North Korea's news agency reported later on that he was party secretary in charge of labor organizations and chairman of the State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission, a post previously held by Jang Song-thaek, and then part of a delegation to South Korea to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games. He was also restored to his Presidium position in late October, and finally demoted from it next February, although he remained a high-ranking member of the Politburo. Reports suggested arrogance and bad reputation among the elites as reasons leading to his downgrading.
In 2017, Choe was appointed to the party's Central Military Commission.
In October 2017 he was appointed the director of the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD). Before his appointment, OGD had been long headed either formally or informally by members of the Kim family. His immediate predecessor had been Kim Jong-un.
In December 2018, the United States Department of State and the Office of Foreign Assets Control has imposed sanctions on Choe and two other North Korean officials for suspected human rights abuses and state-sponsored censorship activities.
- "N.K. leader re-elected as chairman of State Affairs Commission". Yonhap. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
- Brief History of Member of Presidium, Members and Alternate Members of Political Bureau of C.C., WPK Elected to Fill Vacancies, Korean Central News Agency, April 11, 2012.
- "Choe Ryong Hae (Ch'oe Ryong-hae)". North Korea Leadership Watch. 23 February 2018. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
- 14th meeting of Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League CC held, Korean Central News Agency, January 26, 1998.
- "Choe Ryong Hae to OGD? [revised 13 JAN 2018]". North Korea Leadership Watch. 13 January 2018. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
- Kim Jong-un Indispensable to North Korean Regime, Atlantic Sentinel, April 13, 2012.
- N.Korean Military in Crisis, Chosun Ilbo, July 18, 2012.
- "Kim Jong-un Beefs Up Security Amid Fear of Unrest". Chosun Ilbo. December 6, 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
- "Inaugural Ceremony of Renovated Kumsusan Palace of Sun Held". Central Korean News Agency. December 17, 2012. Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
- "Choe Ryong Hae Taken Down a Peg?". North Korea Leadership Watch. December 16, 2012. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
- "Choi Ryong Hae Restored to Former Glory". Daily NK. February 6, 2013. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
- David Chance (7 March 2014). "Choe Ryong Hae, Kim Jong Un's Number Two Man, Reappears After Mysterious Absence". Huffington Post. Reuters. Retrieved 9 March 2014.
- "北 최고인민회의 결과 발표...김영남·박봉주 유임(상보)". News 1 Korea. 9 April 2014. Retrieved 9 April 2014.
- John Grisafi (3 May 2014). "Choe Ryong Hae not purged, but no longer No. 2". NK News. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
- In Latest Government Shuffle, North Korean Leader Removes No. 2 Official From Top Posts, NY Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/03/world/asia/korean-official-loses-a-post.html?_r=0
- Zachary Keck (27 November 2014). "Choe Ryong-hae is North Korea's Number 2... Again". The Diplomat. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
- Subin Kim (14 April 2015). "Choe Ryong Hae loses KJU's faith but retains importance: Expert". The Diplomat. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
- Choe Sang-hun (9 May 2016). "North Korea Expels BBC Journalists Over Coverage". New York Times. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
- Foster-Carter, Aiden (21 November 2014) Mistrust Runs Deep in North Korea-Russia Ties The Wall Street Journal, Asia, Retrieved 16 January 2015
- (2 January 2015) Kim Jong Un’s Little Sister Married Son of Top Regime Official, Report Says Wall Street Journal, Asia, Retrieved 16 January 2015
- "Choe Ryong-hae elected to N.K. ruling party's central military commission". Yonhap. 8 October 2017.
| President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly
Title last held byJo Myong-rok
(1st Vice Chair of National Defence Commission)
| First Vice Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of North Korea
|Party political offices|
|| First Secretary of the Kim Il-sung Socialist Youth League
| Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission
Served alongside: Ri Yong-ho (2012)
Hyon Yong-chol (2012–2013)
| Chairman of the State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission
| Director of the Organization and Guidance Department
Title last held byJo Myong-rok
| Director of the KPA General Political Bureau