New SED Director?

Choe Sang Gon (Photo: Kim Il Sung University)

Choe Sang Gon appears to have been appointed director of the Central Committee’s Science and Education Department [SED], replacing Choe Myong Tong.  Since the beginning of October, Choe has attended three science-related events identified by state media as a Central Committee Department Director with the most recent event being the opening of the Samjiyo’n City People’s Hospital on 15 October.  Choe replaces Choe Myong Tong as head of SED.

Choe’s last position was as President of Kim Il Sung University and Minister of Higher Education, appointed in April 2019.  Unless he is holding the SED Directorate as a concurrent position Choe Sang Gon has had the shortest tenure as university president in the history of KIS University.   Prior to that Choe was successively Vice Chairman and Chairman of the State Science and Technology Commission under the DPRK Cabinet.

Choe Sang Gon (right) attends a 15 October 2020 ceremony opening the Samjiyo’n City People’s Hospital (Photo: KCTV/DPRK Today).

It is unclear if Choe Sang Gon’s appointment is linked to Pak Thae Song’s removal, or temporary suspension, from office as KWP Chairman for Science Education.  Pak was absent at several gatherings of Party leadership during late August and early September.  When Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) visited Kimhwa County on or around 1 October, Pak Thae Song’s name was called out and listed with the other Senior Deputy (1st Vice) Directors attending the guidance visit.  At the 19th Political Bureau meeting of the 7th Central Committee on 5 October, Pak sat with other Central Committee Department Directors and Deputy Directors behind members of the Political Bureau, not at the main table.

Pak Pak Thae Song [left] attends KJUs guidance event in Kimhwa County in October [KCNA file photo]Thae Song [left] attends KJUss

SED is one of the Central Committee’s more complex and interesting departments.  A broad range of policy issues runs through SED’s bureaucracy, from agricultural science and automation to ballistic missiles and global pandemics.  The KWP Vice Chairman’s slot vacated by Pak Thae Song is traditionally bifurcated–the Vice Chairman (Secretary, prior to 2016) gets to dream big policy dreams his peers on the Executive Policy Council and the SED Director gets to ensure those big dreams receive some degree of compliance.

Pak Pong Ju speaks during a 5 October 2020 meeting of the Political Bureau (Photo: KCTV screengrab).

There are a few speculative circumstances and factors with the careers of Pak Thae Song and Choe Sang Gon.  Pak Thae Song may have migrated to another position and the previous SED Director Choe Myong Tong removed from office because of COVID-19.  Other elites have been dismissed, demoted or migrated around “anti-epidemic measures.”  Choe Sang Gon’s appointment as SED Director could be tied to the recruitment and placement of new research scientists and technicians in the WMD and ballistic missile research and production bases, particularly if the DPRK is developing new systems in addition to the ones on which they have been actively working.  Pak Thae Song has been an effective manager for Kim Jong Un over the years (he supervised an industrial upgrade and efficient production of missile engines at the 18 January General Machine Plant during 2014-2016 and the Suryo’ng may decided Pak would be more useful in another, seemingly lower-level position (80-Day Campaigns and so forth).

Mysteries abound.  Kim Jong Un has effected so many personnel changes during 2020 that the Central Committee’s office building might need a revolving door.

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