Markus Garlauskas, the former US National Intelligence Officer for North Korea and Nonresident Senior Fellow with the Asia Security Initiative, published on July 8, 2020 an article, “What the re-emergence of Kim Yong Chol could mean for North Korean policymaking” for NK News. In the article, Garlauskas discusses how Kim Yong Chol, who had been stripped of his role as the leading negotiator with the United States after failing to conclude a deal, has recently made a comeback to oversee the decision to sever North-South communications alongside Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong. He argues that given Kim Yong Chol’s reputation as a provocateur, his restoration to the center stage of DPRK’s foreign policy may be intended as a signal from Kim Jong Un that the DPRK may resort to provocations again, perhaps in the hopes of re-engagement.
Given Kim Yong Chol’s association with past provocations, putting him ‘back in play’ in state media is also an implicit threat from Kim Jong Un as much as a gunfighter quietly resting his hand on the grip of his sixgun. However, Kim Yong Chol’s history should also serve as a reminder that engagement and provocation are not mutually exclusive—they often go hand in hand in Pyongyang’s calculus.