North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was accompanied by an army general at a military event, prompting speculation that the latter may be the country’s new defense chief. The event was announced Monday by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), which did not provide details about when it occurred.
The KCNA report said that the event was attended by Pak Yong-Sik, a four-star army general, who is speculated to be the replacement for former defense minister Hyon Yong-Chol who was executed in late April for allegedly falling asleep during a military parade attended by Kim. And, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, the KCNA report supports ongoing speculation that Pak has been promoted to the post of defense chief.
“The fact that (the North's media) listed Pak before Army Gen. Ri Yong-gil, chief of the General Staff of the KPA, implies a change in post,” Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, told Yonhap.
Speculation about Pak as North Korea’s new defense chief began after the country’s Korean Central Television aired a video earlier this month, showing the army general saluting Kim at an event in late May. It was believed to be a sign that Pak may have been promoted to be Hyon’s successor. However, North Korea has not yet made a formal announcement about a new defense chief.
“It is hard to verify it as the North has not officially named Pak as the arms force minister,” Yonhap quoted Lim Byeong-cheol, a spokesman for the South Korean Unification Ministry, as saying. “But we are aware of media reports that there is a high probability over his appointment.”
Pak, who was a three-star general in the North Korean army in April, is part of Kim’s “field guidances.” He had also handled personnel affairs under the general political department in the Korean People's Army (KPA), Yonhap reported.
If Pak is confirmed to be Pyongyang’s new defense chief, he would be Kim’s sixth choice for the position since the young North Korean dictator came to power in late 2011. Kim is said to have ordered Hyon’s execution with large-caliber, anti-aircraft guns.
According to a recent report by Strategic Digest magazine, Kim -- who is currently believed to be in his early 30s -- is replacing the country’s veteran military officers with those closer to his age.