Powerful N.Korean Hardliner Fading from View

Hwang Pyong-so Hwang Pyong-so

The official who accompanied North Korean leader Kim Jong-un most on field trips this year was not the ostensibly powerful military hardliner Choe Ryong-hae, but a Workers Party official dealing with the Army.

Analysis of Kim's official appearances in the first two months of this year shows that the top spot went to Hwang Pyong-so, a deputy director in charge of the military in the Workers Party's Organization and Guidance Department, who accompanied Kim 12 times.

Second was Army Chief Ri Yong-gil (eight times). But Choe Ryong-hae, who heads the Army Politburo and was widely seen as having replaced Jang Song-taek as the North's eminence grise, only came third with seven times.

This prompted speculation why Choe, who only last year ranked first and seemed to have the leader's trust, is fading from view already. Perhaps his power is already waning because a new group of influential officials is emerging around Kim.

Yoo Ho-yeol of Korea University said, "Choe Ryong-hae played the role of keeping Jang Song-taek in check, but since Jang's execution new officials have begun to assist Kim Jong-un, making Choe another obstacle."

Jang had been the most frequently spotted official accompanying Kim until 2012.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 25, 2014 11:03 KST