12 April 2007

North Korea: New PM, New Direction?

North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly met April 11 for a one-day session, attended by Kim Jong Il. During the meeting, the SPA appointed Minister of Land and Marine Transport Kim Yong Il (sometimes Kim Young Il) the new Premier of the Cabinet, replacing Pak Pong Ju, who served as Premier since 2003. (Just for clarification, this is a different Kim Yong Il from the Vice Foreign Minister who is rather vocal on the nuclear issue) Kim Yong Il was born in 1944, served nine years in the military beginning in 1961, and later attended the Rajin University of Marine Transport (which was founded in 1968, so Kim Yong Il was in one of the earlier classes to graduate from the university).

Kim apparently served as a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Marine and Land Transport for several years, before being promoted to Minister in 1994 or 1995 (either way, apparently after the death of Kim Il Sung). Kim Yong Il was reaffirmed Minister of maritime and Land Transport at the 10th SPA in 1998 and the 11th SPA in 2003. In December, 2005, he accompanied Kim Jong Il on an inspection of a new (or revitalized) dock at the Ryongnam Ship Repair Facility. Kim Yong Il attended the commissioning ceremony for the dock in March, 2006. (Yonhap reports that he accompanied Kim Jong Il on another inspection sometime in 2005, but I have yet to find verification).

In March 2005, Kim Yong Il flew to Damascus to sign an agreement on Maritime transport. He oversaw maritime transport deals with Pakistan in 1998 and China in 2002 – both of which were signed in Pyongyang. Yonhap reports that Kim Yong Il also delegations to Cuba and China within the last seven years. In general, though, Kim Yong Il has kept a low profile. There is little information in South Korea on his family background, place of birth, or his involvement in North Korean policymaking to this point. Kim Yong Il is a 2002 recipient of the Kim Il Sung order.

Kim Yong Il’s appointment means that he is now responsible for North Korea’s economic direction. His predecessor, Pak Pong Ju, is rumored to have failed in his task when he promulgated ineffective agricultural policies. Interestingly, Pak was Minister of Chemical Industry before being appointed premier, suggesting he was much more adept at focusing on heavy industry than on agriculture. Pak had been close to Kim Jong il, nearly the same age as the dear leader, and was also sent abroad several times as part of economic delegations, studying reforms and market systems. His appointment in 2003 was part of an infusion of second generation technocrats into the top tiers of the North Korean leadership. His last public appearance with Kim Jong Il was in May, 2006. His fall was made abundantly clear when he was not even present at the latest SPA session to read the government work report.

Kim Yong Il’s appointment (one of only two apparent changes in the North Korean leadership this time around), may indicate the direction of North Korea’s economic policies in the coming years. His lengthy stay in the Ministry of Maritime and Land Transportation, and his focus on maritime issues, may hint at a more active focus on trade for North Korea. In addition, Kim Yong Il’s oversight of the construction of the computerized Dock No. 2 of the Ryongnam Ship Repairing Factory may hint at North Korea’s entrance into ship building or repair, and Kim Jong Il even reportedly said, during his visit, that the new facility should ultimately have facilities to serve foreign ships’ crews, and take in ship repair of foreign vessels.

As with all such appointments, there is usually much more behind the scenes, and the individual placed in charge may prove unable or unwilling to bring about a new direction for the North Korean economy. But if Kim Yong il’s background is any indicator, North Korea will look to increase foreign trade in the coming years – something that is likely to encourage South Korean and Chinese officials eager for some change in the North Korean economic situation.

Kim Yong Il visiting the Dock No. 2 at the Ryongnam Ship Repair Factory with Kim Jong Il in December, 2005. Kim Yong Il is pointing, Pak Pong Ju is standing behind the two Kims.

Where was Kim Yong Il (Minister of Maritime and Land Transport) Information from KCNA unless otherwise noted

1961: Joins the Military. (Yonhap)

1970s(?): Begins study at the Rajin University of Marine Transport. (Yonhap)

1994(95?): Appointed Minister of Maritime and Land Transport. (Yonhap)

September 1997: Part of the committee that nominated Kim Jong Il as

July 20, 1998: Signed an agreement in Pyongyang on maritime transport between North Korea and Pakistan. Signing for Pakistan was Ambassador Rehmdil Bhatti.

September 5, 1998: Re-appointed Minister of Marine and Land Transport at the 10th SPA session.

March 27, 2002: Awarded the Kim Il Sung Order on the 90th anniversary of the great leader's birthday (one of numerous recipients, but the third mentioned in the list as released by the SPA Presidium). (Central Broadcasting Station, via BBC)

June 15, 2002: Present at a signing ceremony in Pyongyang on maritime transport. Singing the agreement were Chinese Vice Minister of Communications Hu Xijie and Chief of Staff of the North Korean Ministry of Maritime and Land transport, Ra Dong Hui. Also present was Chinese Ambassador Wu Donghe.

September 3, 2003: Re-appointed Minister of Marine and Land Transport at the 11th SPA session.

April 19, 2005: Attended a reception at the Syrian Embassy in Pyongyang, hosted by Syrian Charge d' Affaires a.i. Muhammad Adib Alhani. Also in attendance were Secretary of the CC of the WPK Choe Thae Bok, Minister of Foreign Trade Rim Kyong Man, and Mun Jae Chol, acting chairman of the Korean Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries.

May 7, 2005: Left Pyongyang for a visit to Syria. He was seen off at the airport by Ra Tong Hui, chief of Staff of the Ministry, and Syrian Charge d' Affaires a.i. Muhammad Adib Alhani.

May 11, 2005: Signed an agreement in Damascus on maritime transport.

December 13, 2005: Accompanied Kim Jong Il on a field guidance visit to Dock No. 2 at the Ryongnam Ship Repair Factory. Also joining them was then premier Pak Pong Ju.

March 24, 2006: Attended a commissioning ceremony for Dock No. 2 of the Ryongnam Ship Repairing Factory. Also in attendance was Vice-Premier Ro Tu Chol.

April 11, 2007: Appointed Premier of the cabinet of DPRK.

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