Pak To Chun (1944-202?)

Pak To Chun (L) accompanies Kim Jong Il on a tour of the Kanggye General Tractor Plant in December 2009. Standing behind him (2nd L) is immediate past WPK Munitions Industry Department Director Yu Jin (Photo: KCNA).

Pak To Chun (Pak To-ch’un) has passed away.  Rather than a state media announcement about Pak’s death, his demise was disclosed during a KCNA report about the burial of his remains in the Patriotic Martyrs’ Cemetery in northern Pyongyang.  Pak served as the leading Workers’ Party of Korea [WPK] official of the North Korean defense industry from 2010 to 2015.  Pak’s last observed media appearance was in December 2018 as a member of the state funeral committee organized for former Second Economy Commission Chairman Kim Chol Man.

Pak fulfilled his national service requirement with the Korean People’s Army [KPA] in the early 1960s.  He held a series of party cadre and party secretary positions at production units such as mines and factories.  He also served as a cadre and section chief in WPK Central Committee Departments.  He was first elected to the Supreme People’s Assembly [SPA] in 1998 appointed a secretary of the Changang Province WPK Committee in 1999.

Pak To Chun (annotated) with Kim Jong Un and Hong Sung Mu attending a December 2012 photo-op with personnel involved in the KMS-3/Taepodong launch

Pak To Chun was promoted to Chief Secretary of the Chagang WPK Provincial Committee in 2005, following the death of political heavyweight Yon Hyong Muk (Yon Hyong-muk).  Chagang Province is a largely closed administrative division and the location of dozens of munitions and dual-use factories and production units.  This makes the province’s party boss an influential figure in the DPRK’s defense industry.  Pak was appointed WPK Secretary for Munitions Industry (then known as Machine Building Industry) during the 3rd Party Conference on 28 September 2010.  This established Pak as the regime’s leading defense industry official.  He held a bifurcated position as a Central Party Secretary, while the late Ju Kyu Chang (Chu Kyu-chang) served as director of the WPK Munitions Industry Department [MID].

Pak To Chun (left) delivers a floral basket to a KIS statue in 2010 (Photo: KCTV)

Under Pak’s tenure, the DPRK conducted a successful test of the Taepodong missile (a/k/a U’nha rocket) and its third nuclear test.  Pak contributed to making North Korea’s defense industry more efficient, mothballing unrealistic or defective weapons system development, and breaking down bureaucratic walls that existed between research and development on one side, and production and deployment on the other.  When Pak was replaced in 2015, leadership of MID and the DPRK industry was in flux with Ri Pyong Chol (Ri Pyo’ng-ch’o’l) assuming a leadership role as MID’s senior deputy director in 2014.  Pak was replaced on an interim basis by Kim Chun Sop, who was rapidly replaced in early 2016 by Ri Man Gon (Ri Man-ko’n).  He continued to appear at state events with other retired officials until 2018.

According to state media, Pak To Chun was born in Chagang Province on 9 March 1944 and attended the KIS Higher Party School.

The overall circumstances announcing Pak’s demise are not entirely unusual.  There have been occasions in the past in which a North Korean elite passes away, but his/her overall elite cohort is no longer in vogue.  In order to convey that an individual elite did, in fact, die in the regime’s good graces the body is ceremoniously reburied in one of the martyrs’ cemeteries.  That said, it is most unusual that someone of Pak To Chun’s stature with his major contributions to the regime and to Kim Jong Un’s leadership accomplishments, did not warrant a KCNA death announcement.  Like Kim Jong Il, we like to unwind knotty problems on the spot.  But contemplating personnel shuffles in North Korea’s defense industry–one where a dead body is kept cold and senior cadres like Jo Chun Ryong are kept waiting on a bench until they are restored to top posts–is best left for another day.

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