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Choe Son-hui (Korean최선희, born 1964) is a senior North Korean diplomat. She is the First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and is one of few North Korean women holding a high-level office.

Choe Son-hui
Choe Son-hui.jpg
First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs
Assumed office
April 2019
Preceded byKim Kye-gwan
Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs
(North American portfolio)
In office
February 2018 – April 2019
Preceded byHan Song-ryol
Personal details
Born1964 (age 54–55)
North Korea
NationalityNorth Korean
Political partyWorkers' Party of Korea
FatherChoe Yong-rim (stepfather)
Choe Son-hui
Revised RomanizationChoe Seon-hui
McCune–ReischauerCh’oe Sŏnhŭi

Choe is a seasoned interpreter, aide, researcher, and Foreign Ministry official. Fluent in English, she interpreted at the six-party talks and Washington-Pyongyang dialogue early in her career. Choe has progressed through the ranks in the foreign ministry, from section chief, to deputy director, and since 2016 deputy director-general of the North American department. She was made a regular vice minister in 2018 with a North American portfolio. She became the first vice minister the following year.

Choe is a regular participant in track 1.5 and track 2 diplomacy and has experience particularly in the area of North Korea–United States relations and nuclear issues. A statement by Choe released before the 2018 North Korea–United States Singapore Summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un lead to President Trump temporarily canceling the meeting. Choe had called US Vice President Mike Pence a "political dummy", angering Trump. Regardless, Choe was a participant in the summit when it took place on 12 June. At the 2019 North Korea–United States Hanoi Summit, Choe made a last-minute effort to reach an agreement with her American counterparts, but the talks failed to reach a deal.

Early lifeEdit

Choe Son-hui was born in 1964 in North Korea.[2] She is the stepdaughter of Choe Yong-rim,[3] a former Premier of North Korea who fought under Kim Il-sung during the anti-Japanese struggle.[4][5] Through her stepfather, Choe has a close connection with the ruling Kim dynasty of North Korea.[5] She was educated in North Korea, China, Austria, and Malta and is fluent in English.[2]


Choe Son-hui is a senior diplomat,[6] with more than a decade of experience in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[7] She is much experienced in negotiating on the nuclear program of North Korea,[8] and negotiating with the United States.[6] She worked as an interpreter and aide in nuclear talks, particularly under First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Kye-gwan.[2] Choe participated in such talks in the 1990s and until the six-party talks were foiled in 2009,[8] and onward to 2010 Washington-Pyongyang dialogue.[9] She also served in this capacity during former US president Bill Clinton's visit to Pyongyang following the 2009 imprisonment of American journalists by North Korea and a similar visit by Jimmy Carter.[10] Choe has also interpreted for North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un,[2] and his uncle Jang Song-thaek.[10] She was vice negotiator for 2011 talks with the US.[9] She has also worked as a researcher in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She regularly participates in track 1.5 and track 2 diplomacy.[2]

Choe's longstanding position is that the nuclear weapons program of North Korea is the only reliable safeguard of the country's sovereignty.[1] She has said that severing of United States' military alliance with Japan and South Korea are prerequisites for negotiations and that US withdrawal from Korea should be a verifiable process.[11]

Choe has served as section chief, deputy director,[2] and, since 2016, deputy director-general of the North American department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[9] She was also deputy director of the Institute for American Studies (IFAS) under the ministry.[10] In June 2016, Choe became director of the department and director of IFAS.[2] She was elected to the 14th Supreme People's Assembly in 2019,[12] representing the 484th Electoral District (Onjong).[13]

Vice Minister of Foreign AffairsEdit

Choe and team negotiating with US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim

Choe was promoted to the rank of Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs in late February 2018,[2] replacing Han Song-ryol and taking his North America portfolio. Han remained vice minister with a European portfolio.[8] At the time, there were seven regular vice ministers in the ministry under First Vice Minister Kim Kye-gwan.[14][8] Called North Korea's "point person" on relations with the United States,[15] Choe's portfolio included responsibility for those relations and with Canada.[16]

Choe's appointment had been interpreted as reflecting North Korea's willingness to negotiate with the United States as she had expressed a conciliatory position during the 2017 North Korea crisis.[8] She was therefor expected to play a role in upcoming negotiations in the run-up to the 2018 North Korea–United States Singapore Summit.[14] In the run-up, she headed North Korea's negotiating team a number of times when they met with their American counterparts.[17] In May, she participated in track 1.5 talks with former US diplomats ,[8] in order to get to know the administration of US president Donald Trump.[18]

On 24 May, however, the state news agency KCNA released a statement in Choe's name whereby she criticized US Vice President Mike Pence,[19] calling him a "political dummy" for comparing North Korea to Libya and its nuclear weapons program:[20]

As a person involved in the U.S. affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice-president.

If he is vice-president of "single superpower" as is in name, it will be proper for him to know even a little bit about the current state of global affairs and to sense to a certain degree the trends in dialogue and the climate of détente.

We could surmise more than enough what a political dummy he is as he is trying to compare the DPRK, a nuclear weapon state, to Libya that had simply installed a few items of equipment and fiddled around with them.[21]

Choe is thought to have direct access to Kim Jong-un,[4] and according to The Times' Daniel Hurst, "it is unlikely that she was speaking without the authority of Mr Kim".[5] Choe's remarks directly led to Trump promptly notifying North Korea that the planned 2018 North Korea–United States Singapore Summit would be canceled.[3] According to CNN, "Trump and his aides were infuriated by the statement and wanted to respond forcefully ... The specific and personal targeting of Pence is what irked US officials".[19]

In the end, the summit was organized on 12 June and Choe was present.[22] She was replaced as the head of working-level negotiations in early 2019.[12] At the 2019 North Korea–United States Hanoi Summit that ended prematurely and without an agreement,[23] Choe was the last person to have talked to the American team of negotiators. She made a last-minute suggestion that all facilities of the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center could be demolished. When she was aksed to clarify what the offer meant, she was unable to give any further details, resulting in the American team walking out.[24]

First Vice Minister of Foreign AffairsEdit

Choe received a series of promotions in April 2019, becoming a member of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea and the State Affairs Commission (SAC). She was also elevated to first First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, likely replacing her former superior Kim Kye-gwan, who had not been seen in public since 2017. The promotion to SAC in particular has been interpreted as making Choe a very powerful foreign policy official and possibly signaling new impetus to talks between North Korea and the United States. Choe reports directly to Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong-ho.[24]

Choe is the highest-ranking woman in the foreign ministry. She is one of a few women in holding such a high-level office in North Korean politics overall.[3] With her appointment to First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Choe became the highest-ranking female diplomat ever in the history of the country.[24] Ralph Cossa, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies's Pacific Forum, calls her "incredibly bright and apparently well-connected".[8] Thae Yong-ho, top diplomat who defected in 2016 says: "Her credentials are excellent."[9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Chun Young-gi (31 March 2018). "Dealing with Bolton". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Choe Son-hui (Ch'oe So'n-hu'i)". North Korea Leadership Watch. 7 March 2018. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  3. ^ a b c "2 N. Korean Diplomats Behind US Summit Back-And-Forth". The New York Times. AP. 26 May 2018. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  4. ^ a b Fifield, Anna (23 May 2018). "North Korea says it's up to U.S. whether they meet at a table or in a 'nuclear showdown'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  5. ^ a b c Hurst, Daniel (25 May 2018). "Choe Son-hui: the North Korean diplomat whose outburst let Trump cancel summit". The Times. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  6. ^ a b Hotham, Oliver (13 May 2017). "N. Korea will talk to U.S. 'if conditions are there', says diplomat". NK News. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  7. ^ "Choe Yong Rim". North Korea Leadership Watch. 7 March 2018. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Hotham, Oliver (27 February 2018). "Choe Son Hui promoted to vice-minister at DPRK foreign ministry: sources". NK News. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d Jung Hyo-Sik; Esther Chung (15 August 2017). "'Back channel' is being used by U.S. and North". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  10. ^ a b c Madden, Michael (8 May 2018). "Under New Management: Shifts in North Korea's Foreign Ministry and Nuclear Communications". 38 North. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  11. ^ Ford 2011, p. 126.
  12. ^ a b Zwirko, Colin (12 March 2019). "Kim Jong Un left off list of officials elected to 14th Supreme People's Assembly". NK News. Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  13. ^ Jo Jung-hoon (12 March 2019). 북 김정은, 최고인민회의 대의원 처음 빠져: (추가) 북 언론, 687명 대의원 명단 발표...당 부위원장들 포함 (명단). Tongil News (in Korean). Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  14. ^ a b "Choe Son-hui, N.K. diplomat on U.S. affairs, promoted to vice minister". Yonhap. 8 March 2018. Retrieved 15 May 2018.
  15. ^ Myre, Greg; Henry, Shirley; Hu, Elise; Kelemen, Michele (11 June 2018). "Who's Who At Tuesday's Trump-Kim Summit In Singapore". NPR. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
  16. ^ O'Carroll, Chad (7 March 2018). "N. Korean vice foreign minister Choe Hui Chol takes over Europe dept: sources". NK News. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  17. ^ "Here are the key players on both sides of the US-North Korea summit". ABC News. 11 June 2018. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
  18. ^ "Senior North Korean diplomat says country is open to dialogue with U.S. under right 'conditions'". The Japan Times. Reuters, Kyodo. 13 May 2017. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  19. ^ a b Diamond, Jeremy; Liptak, Kevin; Labott, Elise (24 May 2018). "Trump cancels Singapore summit in letter to Kim Jong Un". CNN. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  20. ^ Berlinger, Joshua (24 May 2018). "North Korea warns of nuclear showdown, calls Pence 'political dummy'". CNN. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  21. ^ "Press Statement by Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of DPRK". OANA. KCNA. 24 May 2018. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  22. ^ "N.Korea TV airs documentary of Singapore summit". NHK World. 14 June 2018. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
  23. ^ Rosenfeld, Everett (27 February 2019). "Trump-Kim summit was cut short after North Korea demanded an end to all sanctions". CNBC. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  24. ^ a b c O'Carroll, Chad (12 April 2019). "Choe Son Hui promoted to first vice foreign minister, state media confirms". NK News. Retrieved 12 April 2019.

Works citedEdit

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Han Song-ryol
Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs
(North American portfolio)

Succeeded by
Preceded by
Kim Kye-gwan
First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs