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Kim Jong-un’s Sister Emerges as Key Political Figure in N. Korea

2020-04-09

ⓒ YONHAP News

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong is emerging as an influential political figure in the communist regime. 


Also, as the first vice director of the Workers’ Party, Kim lashed out at the South Korean presidential office early last month. Later, she also disclosed that U.S. President Donald Trump had sent a letter to her brother. Apparently, she has strengthened her political status enough to weigh in on inter-Korean affairs and U.S. relations. It is widely believed that she has been raised to the level of North Korea’s second-in-command, a promotion from her previous role as an assistant to her brother. 


Here’s political commentator Choi Young-il to explain Kim Yo-jong’s political profile in more detail. 


Kim Yo-jong is one of the members of North Korea’s royal family, or the so-called Baekdu Bloodline, which refers to the bloodline of the nation’s founder Kim Il-sung. She is known as the only person in the regime to speak frankly to leader Kim Jong-un and will even tell him harsh truths. She drew attention from people in South Korea when she visited as a special envoy ahead of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. At the time, she sat face to face with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and delivered a letter from her brother. While records in the U.S. indicate that she was born in 1989, South Korea assumes that she was born in 1987 or 1988. It’s unclear exactly how old she is. 


The Unification Ministry in Seoul estimates Kim was born in 1987. If the estimation is correct, she became a member of the Supreme People’s Assembly at the age of 25, a member of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party at 27 and a candidate of the politburo at 28. And on January 1 this year, she was appointed as the first vice director of the party. Clearly, she plays a key role in the Kim Jong-un regime, both in name and reality. 


In the summit between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February of last year, Kim Yo-jong stayed next to her brother to handle protocol at a close distance. Before arriving in Vietnam, she was spotted assisting her brother when he took a smoking break, holding an ashtray. At the time, her close assistance drew much attention. 


She assisted Kim Jong-un in June of last year when he met with leaders of South Korea and the U.S. at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom. In the same month, she was also present when her brother met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Pyongyang. Together with Kim Jong-un, she attended the test of a super-large multiple rocket launcher in August of last year. She sat next to him, along with his wife Ri Sol-ju and his aunt Kim Kyung-hui, at a performance celebrating this year’s Lunar New Year holiday. Most recently, on March 21, she accompanied her brother who inspected a test of a tactical guided weapon. In brief, she has demonstrated her presence in diplomatic, military and political areas. 


Her elevated status can be seen in the recent two statements released in her own name. In the first statement under her name on March 3, she slammed the South Korean presidential office, calling it “mentally challenged.” In her second statement on March 22, she revealed the fact that Trump had sent a personal letter to the North Korean leader. In the statement, she expressed her personal opinion about future North Korea-U.S. relations. 


Previously, North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland and the Foreign Ministry issued statements about inter-Korean affairs and North Korea-U.S. relations, respectively. But Kim Yo-jong has now come to the forefront to announce the government’s position, reflecting that her political status has risen significantly. 


I imagine Kim Yo-jong can read the leader’s mind better than anyone else and is one of a few figures he can trust. Perhaps, she is the only person who can influence her brother’s decision making on an equal footing. 


Formerly, several people were regarded as the No.2 man in the North Korean military or politics. But Kim Yo-jong is the only figure whose official role or power has been elevated to carry out public activities effectively. In a sense, she is Kim Jong-un’s other self. The two play their respective roles and make important decisions together to lead the country.  


At the plenary meeting of the Workers’ Party Central Committee late last year, it seems that Kim Yo-jong was transferred from the Propaganda and Agitation Department to the Organization and Guidance Department. It’s important to note that it is the most powerful department in the party. Considering her royal status in the nation’s dynastic political system, many predict that she may wield even greater influence down the road. 


If we ask a question, “Who will rule North Korea in the event of the death of the current leader?”, the answer is clear—his sister. Kim Yo-jong is the only person who can replace the leader for now. It appears that she is being groomed as a leader in the absence of her brother. She has actually played important roles in dealing with protocol for key events and demonstrating the status of her country to the outside world. As of late, she has issued diplomatic statements as well. I predict she will take on more responsibility in the future and North Korea will be led by the two siblings. 


She has been promoted so fast that North Koreans often say, “All roads lead to Comrade Yo-jong.” Unlike her another older brother Kim Jong-chol, who went out of the public eye, Kim Yo-jong enjoys her high status. 


Kim Yo-jong has never left the leader’s side since he took power after the death of their father and former leader Kim Jong-il. The two spent their school days overseas together. For Kim Jong-un, his sister was probably the only person, whom he talked with and trusted. Especially during the lonely and important period when his thoughts and values were formed. Of course, he has his wife and children now. But I think his confidence in his sister is so great that he can focus on his own tasks, while letting her do other important things.


The Supreme People’s Assembly on Friday will likely carry out a personnel reshuffle. Attention is drawn to whether North Korea will announce a new diplomatic lineup and unveil a specific title of Kim Yo-jong. 


North Korea has yet to decide on the diplomatic team involving the United States. Washington says the possibility of bilateral dialogue is still open, revealing letters exchanged between Trump and Kim Jong-un. Pyongyang also highlights the close relationship between the two men. But personal relations have limitations. Calls are growing over the need to strengthen bilateral ties at a national level. At the upcoming Supreme People’s Assembly session, North Korea could decide to use Kim Yo-jong as an official diplomatic channel with the U.S. A similar example is Trump’s daughter Ivanka serving as a close aide to him. Some analysts speculate that the North Korean leader’s sister may lead a new diplomatic line in charge of relations with the U.S.


The Supreme People’s Assembly has rarely announced a diplomatic message. But if the meeting announces a new figure in charge of negotiations with the U.S., it shows North Korea’s commitment to dialogue. It remains to be seen if Kim Yo-jong’s political status will be reinforced yet again at Friday’s event.

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