Kim Jong-un given new title in North Korean leadership shuffle

Kim Jong-un.
Kim Jong-un. Photo credit: Reuters

In one of the biggest leadership shake-ups in years, North Korea has named a new nominal head of state and a new premier and given leader Kim Jong-un a new title, moves analysts say solidifies Kim's grip on power.

In an expected move, Kim Jong-un was re-elected as chairman of the State Affairs Commission at a session of North Korea's rubber-stamp legislature that took place on Thursday, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

For the first time, however, state media referred to Kim as "supreme representative of all the Korean people". That title was approved by special decree in February, according to the Associated Press, but has not been used publicly until Friday.

It's unclear whether the changes will be codified in the constitution, but analysts said the shake-up shows Kim has fully come into his own, eight years after he inherited rule from his father, Kim Jong-il.

"The transition and power consolidation of the Kim Jong-un regime is complete," said Michael Madden, a leadership researcher with 38 North, a website that monitors North Korea.

"This is probably the largest party-government shake-up in many years," he said.

Since early 2018 Kim has embarked on a push for economic development and international engagement, including historic summits with the leaders of the United States, China and South Korea.

Choe Ryong-hae was named President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea, replacing Kim Yong-nam.

The person holding that position is constitutionally considered North Korea's head of state and usually represents the country at diplomatic events, though experts say real power remains concentrated in Kim Jong-un's hands.

Kim Yong-nam, who was born in 1928, has been one of the longest-serving senior officials, having held the position since it was created for him in 1998, Madden said.

His replacement, Choe, was subjected to political "re-education" in the past, but in recent years appeared to be gaining more influence since he was promoted in October 2017 to the party's powerful Central Military Commission, South Korean intelligence officials previously said.

Choe was one of the three officials sanctioned by the United States in December over allegations of rights abuses.

On Thursday US President Donald Trump, who has had two summits with Kim to discuss North Korean denuclearisation and has expressed his willingness for a third, said Washington would leave sanctions in place.

Several officials who have played leading roles in negotiations with the United States, including Choe Son-hui and Kim Yong-chol, were also promoted.

Kim Jae-ryong, a senior party official, was appointed premier of the cabinet, replacing Pak Pong-ju.