The absence of new North Korean No. 2 Choe Ryong-hae at a major military conference headed by supreme leader Kim Jong-un on Saturday has sparked another round of speculation over the state of the country's political landscape.
Saturday's conference, in which Kim outlined the new tasks and goals for the Korean People's Army in the new year, was reported extensively by state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun. While defense minister Jang Jong-nam and chief of general staff Ri Yong-gil were both mentioned as being present at the conference in the report, Choe Ryong-hae, the director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army was not mentioned at all.
Choe's failure to attend such an important conference is regarded as highly peculiar by North Korean observers, who point out that the 64-year-old senior official is now the country's second-in-command following the execution of Jang Sung-taek, Kim's uncle-in-law and former mentor. The 67-year-old Jang was executed on Dec 12 for allegedly seeking to seize power from his former protege and was subsequently described as "despicable human scum" by state media.
Duowei News, an outlet run by overseas Chinese, raises four potential possibilities for Choe's absence. The first and least controversial explanation is illness, though there was no mention of this in the state media article.
The second explanation is that Choe decided to skip the conference to help accentuate Kim's power and status. Choe has risen to prominence as North Korea's No. 2 after Jang's death, with some media outlets even speculating that he is in fact the puppeteer who controls the strings to Kim, who is no more than a figurehead. Choosing to skip the conference would keep the limelight off him and firmly on the supreme leader, Duowei said.
The third possibility raised by Duowei is that Kim may have ordered Choe to miss the meeting to dispel the puppet rumors and to prove that he is the undoubted head of the country's military.
The fourth possibility is that Choe fears that he could also be perceived as a risk to Kim's throne and voluntarily stepped aside to avoid the same fate as Jang.
On the fourth day following Jang's execution, Choe had urged the country to pledge their allegiance to Kim and vowed that the military would follow "the ever-victorious leadership of our supreme commander."http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?cid=1101&MainCatID=11&id=20140108000032