The mystery of Kim Hyok Chol

At the beginning of the week, reports began to emerge from right wing South Korean media regarding the potential execution of Kim Hyok Chol, Pyongyang's envoy to the United States. There have been reports since February that a purge had occurred in the aftermath of the failed Hanoi summit with US President Trump.

Kim Hyok Chol

However, the very nature of North Korean media means these claims are difficult to verify. Hyok Chol hasn't been seen in state media since February, although with the limited number of state media outlets available to analysts, this is not proof that he has been executed, or even purged. The other important factor is to look at the newspaper which published the report, Chosun Ilbo. This South Korean publication is notable for being a right wing, anti-DPRK publication which has made similar claims in the past, only for them to be disproved later. The most well-known case is that of singer Hyon Song Wol who was reported to have been executed along with other musicians and later turned up in Seoul leading a delegation from the north in the run-up to the PyeongChang winter olympics.

The report, from a single, unverified source, reported that Hyok Chol, along with other officials from the foreign ministry, had been executed for their failure to reach a consensus with Washington on the issue of sanctions. The summit in Vietnam collapsed earlier this year after the US side refused to accept a phased denuclearisation strategy, instead reportedly pushing for an 'all-or-nothing' agreement which required major concessions which officials in the DPRK were not prepared to make so suddenly. It is possible that Kim Hyok Chol and his colleagues came under fire from the senior administration who may have used them as a scapegoat to explain their apparent failure to reach an agreement. It is equally possible however, that Hyok Chol remains in position and has been out of the limelight due to the lack of US-DPRK diplomacy going on at present.

In conclusion, will we have to wait and see if Kim turns up again. With the lack of information coming out of Pyongyang it may be a long time before any news comes out regarding this topic (if it ever comes out at all). Before then, it may be worth keeping an eye on US-DPRK negotiations if they continue to see if Kim Hyok Chol has been replaced as special envoy.

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