A senior North Korean military official with a troubled past was seen not clapping for Kim Jong Un at last week’s workshop for Pyongyang’s military commanders, raising concerns in the South about Ri Yong Gil’s status.
After the workshop ended on June 27, the Korean Workers’ Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun published 48 photos of it on Friday. Ri was seated on the fourth page of the issue, next to an image of military officials giving Kim a standing ovation. He was also seen looking down at the ground.
Ri’s photo could have captured a fleeting moment when he didn’t have time to get to his feet. According to a North Korean defector source in the South, the photo could have been a “simple mistake” that casts Ri in an unfavourable light, according to the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo on Wednesday.
According to the report, there is “still a possibility it will act as a negative for Ri.”
Ri was appointed to the position of defense minister in July, according to Korea JoongAng Daily. The assessment came from the South Korean government after Kim visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in June, when Ri was seen standing close to the North Korean leader.
Ri was promoted to captain eight months after being promoted for the first time in 2012, when Kim assumed full power. According to the Chosun, Ri was the commander of North Korea’s 5th Corps in Kangwon Province prior to his promotions.
The North Korean official may have fallen out of favour with Kim in 2016, when he was removed from his position as chairman of the North Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Speculation in the South arose at the time that Ri had been executed until his name appeared in a list of Politburo members – the tenth in a roster of senior North Korean officials – published in the Rodong Sinmun in May of that year.
Since assuming full power in 2012, Kim has executed his uncle-in-law Jang Song Thaek in 2013 and his defence minister, Hyon Yong Chol, in 2015.
According to South Korean intelligence at the time, Hyon was fired after being charged with insubordination and dozing off in meetings.