Pyongyang has named an army general with expertise in artillery as its new military commander, North Korean state media reported on Friday, in a move that an analyst said could signal plans for the development of new weapons.
Pak Jong-chon was appointed the chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said late on Friday, adding that the decision was announced during a meeting attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Pak succeeded Ri Yong-gil, an expert on military operations who has served in the position on two separate occasions since 2013.
His promotion from head of the Korean People’s Army’s Artillery Command might suggest a new military focus on weapons development, said Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean defector and researcher in Seoul.
The North was particularly threatened by the South’s acquisition of cutting-edge US F-35 warplanes — known for their ability to evade radar detection — earlier this year, Ahn told reporters.
“It is also notable that Pak accompanied Kim during the North’s test-firing of its new weapons,” Ahn said. “With him as the North’s top military officer, it’s more likely that Pyongyang will prioritize artillery along with its new weapons system.”
Pak last month accompanied Kim when he supervised the test-firing of what North Korea said were “new-type tactical guided missiles.”
Pak was also present when Kim oversaw the test of a “newly developed large-caliber multiple-launch guided rocket system” in July, KCNA reported at the time.
South Korea has described the two launches as “short-range ballistic missiles,” which the North is barred from testing under UN resolutions.
Pyongyang had said that the two launches — along with five other tests in July and last month — were a warning to Washington and Seoul over last month’s joint military drills, which it has long considered rehearsals for invasion.
The launch that took place on Aug. 6, in particular, verified the “war capacity” of the new type of missiles, KCNA said last month.
Pak’s promotion came as working-level nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington remain gridlocked, despite an agreement in June between Kim and US President Donald Trump to restart the process.
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