North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has sent his key confidant to the country’s top school for reeducation, South Korea’s intelligence officials said Thursday, in an apparent lenient punishment that could set the stage of his political comeback in the coming months, if not years.
“Choe Ryong-hae is receiving education at Kim Il Sung Higher Party School,” an official said, referring to the top institution named after the country’s founder, Kim’s late grandfather.
The school in Pyongyang is the top institution where party officials are trained.
Choe, a senior secretary of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, visited China a couple of times and is widely seen as North Korea’s point man on China.
In 2013, Choe met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing as Kim’s envoy. In September, Choe also visited Beijing for China’s massive military parade.
Choe’s whereabouts have been under the intense spotlight among officials and analysts in South Korea and other regional powers as he was not named as a member of a funeral committee of a senior military official who died last Saturday.
Choe also did not show up for the state funeral ceremony of Ri Ul-sol, marshal of North Korea’s military, who died of lung cancer at the age of 94.
Choe’s conspicuous absence sparked speculation among some analysts that he might have been ousted from the party’s key post.