More and more in focus: Rise in the background: How Kim’s sister becomes the most powerful woman in North Korea
North Korea’s ruler Kim Jong Un has a close relationship with his younger sister Kim Yo Jong. They have been working side by side for years. With that, the sister climbs up the power hierarchy.
Young and self-confident, smiling friendly and calm: This is how Kim Yo Jong looked in South Korea when she arrived at the beginning of 2018 as a member of an official delegation from North Korea to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in the south of the Korean peninsula.
It was the first time that a direct member of the ruling family of the isolated neighboring country South Korea visited. Kim, whose age is estimated at 32 in South Korea, had been an influential advisor to her brother, who was a few years older than her – the North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un.
Sister ensures a good image and a regular life
From today’s perspective, the fact that the sister continued to rise in the power hierarchy while her brother consolidated his status seems to be taken for granted in South Korea. Often she only stayed in the background when she appeared at the brother’s side. But because the family bloodline is more important than anything else in North Korea, no one else had such an important position in Pyongyang alongside the dictator as his sister so early on.
As the deputy head of the propaganda department of the Labor Party in the Stalinist state, she is not only responsible for her brother’s image. Since he came to power at the end of 2011, “it has managed its public appearances, travel routes and logistical requirements,” as the experts at the North Korean Leadership Watch write.
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Rise in the background – Kim Yo Jong the secret number two
Today the South Korean secret service comes to the conclusion that Kim Yo Jong is now the “de facto number two leader” in North Korea. On Thursday, the National Defense Service reported to a parliamentary committee in Seoul that Kim Jong Un had delegated some of his powers to a few close confidants, including his sister, and that responsibility for state affairs had been divided between different shoulders. The sister is now responsible for Pyongyang’s policy towards South Korea and the USA.
The secret service emphasized, however, that Kim had not given up his absolute authority. How the organization came to these findings was unclear. What happens behind the scenes in Pyongyang is usually in the dark and cannot be verified from the outside.
When Kim Jong Un disappeared from the scene for a few weeks without explanation in April of this year, speculation abroad about his health and possible successor shot up wildly. The focus: Kim Yo Jong. It was not ruled out that the sister might be ready for the successor. However, some experts thought it more likely that if Kim Jong Un died, a collective leadership group could take power first.
South Korea now rates sister as equally powerful
But there was already evidence of the sister’s growing political influence. This also included the fact that it had issued its own political declaration for the first time in March of this year. In it, she responded with angry verbal attacks to the South Korean government’s criticism of the new North Korean missile tests. The sister now appeared to the South Koreans as an ambitious functionary who has to earn her spurs by being tough.
In June, Kim Yo Jong threatened retaliation against Seoul following anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets by activists in South Korea. It was said that she had the authority to do this from the ruler and the party. North Korea later blew up an empty inter-Korean liaison office on its territory. Kim Yo Jong later described the South Korean government’s offer to send special envoys on a de-escalation mission as a “tactless and dark proposal”. “There is ample evidence to suggest that Kim Yo Jong’s declarations are treated in the same way as Kim Jong Uns,” wrote the South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh.
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