Where is Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister to the North Korean leader?
That is a concern those who watch the cloistered, nuclear-armed world ask after in recent days she has refused to feature in the recently announced roster of absolute leader Kim Jong Un for the country’s influential Politburo.
Some claim that Kim Jong Un may have demoted his sister over shortcomings in general policy. Others, however, claim that as he attempts to improve his domestic power in the face of growing economic difficulties, he might be concerned about its fast growth and extremely high profile.
Rumors that Kim Yo Jong is the apparent successor of her brother could be risky because they “raise the issue of Kim’s hold on power and health within North Korea,” said Oh Gyeong-seob, an analyst at the Korea National Unification Institute in Seoul. This, he added, is why Kim Jong Un’s increase in popularity is slowing down.
The change is a surprise because, after a governing Workers’ Party congress that ended on Tuesday, Kim Yo Jong, who became an alternative member of the Politburo last year, was generally predicted to obtain a full bureau membership. A membership of the Politburo is seen as necessary for high-level officials looking to prosper in the government of Kim Jong Un after he took crucial decisions at bureau meetings, including the drive to execute his influential uncle Jang Song Taek in 2013 and the purge of military leader Ri Yong Ho in 2012.
Kim Yo Jong, who is thought to be about 32, sat on the leadership podium when the eight-day congress, the first of its kind since 2016, opened last week, standing out among the often aged, predominantly male party cadres. But when a list of 30 alternative and full members of the Politburo, including 37-year-old Kim Jong Un, was released by Congress on Monday, her name was not there.
Kim Yo Jong has not been purged or pressured to leave politics, a fate other officials have experienced under Kim Jong Un, and she also preserves her membership in a high-level body, the Central Committee of the Party. But when she issued a statement on Wednesday denouncing South Korea, state media named her as the party’s “vice department director,” a lower rank than her former “first vice department director” role.
Kim Jong Un encourages his 25 million people to unite behind his leadership to address the “worst-ever” struggles of what he has called his country. North Korea has faced economic disruptions associated with coronavirus, a spate of natural disasters last summer, and persistent US-led restrictions over its search for illegal nuclear weapons. Kim promised to increase his nuclear arsenal during congress and create a larger, self-reliant economy.
The goal of the Congress is to solidify the leadership of Kim Jong Un. If Kim Yo Jong had been a full member of the Politburo, all eyes would have been on her […] and Kim Jong Un undoubtedly felt it as a responsibility, said Ko Young-hwan, a former deputy director of the National Security Planning Institute, a think tank run by South Korea’s spy agency, during Monday’s television news show.
Formerly little known to outsiders, after her brother inherited power after their aunt, Kim Jong Il, died in late 2011, Kim Yo Jong has soared politically.
The present Kims are the third generation to rule North Korea in their family, and their leadership is based on a cult of personality developed after the country was founded by their grandfather Kim Il Sung in 1948. Their legendary ‘paektu’ bloodline, named after the most holy mountain in the North, enables the nation to be ruled only by immediate family members.
After her brother’s high-stakes nuclear negotiations with United States President Donald Trump and other world leaders in 2018 and 2019, Kim Yo Jong rose to international fame. Her proximity to Kim Jong Un ignited rumours at those meetings that she was working as chief of staff for her brother.
She created a reputation in South Korea as “a peace messenger” after attending the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, becoming the first member of the ruling family of the North to visit the South since the end of the Korean War of 1950-53.
However, last year, by releasing scathing diatribes against South Korea and placing pressure on the US to make concessions despite deadlocked nuclear diplomacy, she suddenly changed direction. North Korean state media said she was in charge of South Korean relations, and outside observers hypothesised that she might also hand over US affairs.
She slammed South Korea for provoking the North in her speech on Wednesday by declaring that it had uncovered intelligence that North Korea was planning a military parade or a rehearsal for such a parade this week.
When unconfirmed global reports about the health of Kim Jong Un escalated last year, some analysts said that if her brother was incapacitated, Kim Yo Jong was next in line to rule North Korea. The spy agency of South Korea later said that she was practically the No. 2 North official, but was not anointed as the successor of her brother.
“Kim Yeol Soo, an analyst at the Korea Institute for Military Affairs in South Korea, said, “Kim Jong Un possibly kept his sister accountable for deteriorating [external] links, as she had no successes in relations with the US and South Korea.
Whatever the reason for her obvious losing of the job of the Politburo, several observers claim that due to her clear connection to the paektu bloodline, her political clout probably remains unchanged. There is also a feeling that Kim Jong Un would give her another high-profile job eventually.
Oh, the observer, said that after Kim Song Ae, the late second wife of Kim Il Sung, Kim Yo Jong is possibly the second-most influential woman in North Korean history.
Oh said, “Kim Yo Jong can meet and speak freely with Kim Jong Un at any time […] so we can’t help saying she has a tremendous influence.” “Her roles will be larger as she gets older.”
But, he added, if she covets more strength, her rise will end.