SEOUL, Jan 9, 2019, Hankyoreh. The Jan. 8 edition of the Rodong Sinmun only listed five people as being in the entourage of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during his fourth visit to China: Kim Yong-chol, Ri Su-yong and Pak Tae-song, all vice chairmen of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK); Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho; and Minister of the People’s Armed Forces No Kwang-chol.
And although this was not announced officially, WPK Propaganda and Agitation Department Director Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s younger sister and the de facto head of his secretariat, was also shown to be on the trip by footage broadcast on Korean Central Television (KCTV), reported the Hankyoreh.
Kim Yong-chol, Ri Su-yong and Ri Yong-ho accompanied Kim Jong-un on his first three trips to China last year and also attended each of his meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The fact that these three figures, who are pillars of Kim Jong-un’s foreign policy, have joined Kim for his fourth visit to China sheds light on the primary objectives of Kim’s trip, experts believe. These objectives likely consist of preparing for the second North Korea-US summit, which signals it will be held soon; exploring ways to strengthen China-North Korea ties on the 70th anniversary of the two countries’ establishment of diplomatic relations on Oct. 6; and discussing Xi’s own visit to North Korea.
In contrast with Kim Jong-un’s first three trips to China, Kim Yong-chol took Ri Su-yong’s place of honor as the first person mentioned as being part of Kim’s entourage. This underscores how Kim Yong-chol’s work representing the North Korean leader during the inter-Korean and North Korea-US summits has elevated his status.
Ri Yong-ho met with Xi Jinping in Beijing on Dec. 7, 2018, and during that meeting the two appear to have discussed not only Kim’s fourth visit to China but also Xi’s visit to North Korea. The Rodong Sinmun reported that during Kim Jong-un’s first visit to China on Mar. 25-28, 2018, Kim asked Xi to “pay an official visit to North Korea at a convenient time,” a request that Xi “readily accepted.” Xi’s visit to the North, which has been delayed since then, is expected to take place during the first half of 2019.
Pak Tae-song is in charge of education and science on the WPK’s Central Committee. This is the second time he has joined the North Korean leader for a trip to China, following Kim Jong-un’s third visit on June 19-20. Shortly after Kim’s second trip to China on May 7-8, Pak met Xi during a trip to China as the head of a “friendship tour” on May 14-19 that included the chairs of WPK municipal and provincial committees. During that visit, Pak told Xi that the purpose of the group’s trip to China was to “learn about China’s experience with reform and opening” and to play “an active role in implementing the new strategic line that focuses our effort on economic development,” state-run China Central Television reported. Pak is slated to play a key role in fusing China’s experience into this new line of building up North Korea’s socialist economy, which Kim Jong-un adopted on Apr. 20, 2018 after announcing the end of the two-track line of simultaneous economic and nuclear development.
This is the second time that No Kwang-chol is accompanying Kim Jong-un to China, after Kim’s third trip. No was also present for Kim’s summit with US President Donald Trump on June 12, 2018, and it was No who signed South and North Korea’s Comprehensive Military Agreement on Sept. 19. No’s presence could be connected to a discussion of how to correct the imbalance in conventional military strength that could arise during the process of denuclearization and inter-Korean arms reduction. Along with the trio of Kim Yong-chol, Ri Su-yong and Ri Yong-ho, No Kwang-chol is indispensable for drafting the strategy for the multilateral negotiations aimed at converting to the peace regime that Kim Jong-un proposed during his New Year’s address.
Additionally, this is the second time that Kim Yo-jong has accompanied her older brother to China, in addition to his second visit, to Dalian.
By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer