December 18, 2020 13:32
North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Son-gwon, a hawkish former point man on the U.S. and South Korea, has disappeared from public view since August.
Ri also seems to have lost his position as a "candidate member" of the Politburo.
"We're trying to find out what happened to him," a senior government official here said on Thursday. "He still retains his position as foreign minister."
Ri was not seen when leader Kim Jong-un paid his respects to his late father Kim Jong-il during a ceremony marking Kim senior's ninth death anniversary at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang on Thursday.
Experts speculate that Kim Jong-un will replace Ri, a former Army colonel, with a career diplomat with negotiation skills around the time of Joe Biden's inauguration as U.S. president next month. A likely candidate is First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, who is thought to be close to Kim Jong-un's younger sister Yo-jong.
In North Korea, the Workers Party is the center of power and the Politburo is the core of the party. The Politburo consists of some 30 members -- four members of the presidium, about 10 full members and about 10 "candidate" members. This core elite attend meetings chaired Kim and rule North Korea.
Ri was last publicly seen when he attended a full session of the party Central Committee on Aug. 19, according to a government source here. When he was appointed foreign minister in January, observers construed that as a signal that Pyongyang would not engage in any more dialogue.
But Choe has reportedly been helping Kim Yo-jong, who is in charge of South Korean and U.S. affairs, working out strategies to deal with Washington since the U.S. presidential election.
Former Vice Unification Minister Kim Hyung-suk said, "The appointment of Ri Son-gwon as foreign minister after the failed Hanoi summit was aimed at showing a tough stance rather than taking an interest in further talks with Washington. Now the regime will replace him with a person who can talk with the U.S."
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