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All About Kim Jong Un’s ‘Tough' Sister Kim Yo Jong Who May be First Woman Leader of North Korea

Will Kim Yo Jong succeed as North Korea's Supreme Leader? Kim Jong Un's ill health sparks succession speculation | Image credit: Reuters

Will Kim Yo Jong succeed as North Korea's Supreme Leader? Kim Jong Un's ill health sparks succession speculation | Image credit: Reuters

Kim Yo Jong, 32, has become increasingly visible in North Korea's public life and politics this year following several reports of the ill health of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.

In shocking news, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been facing ill health and has reportedly gone into a coma. As per multiple reports coming out of the country, his sister Kim Yo Jong is set to take the reins.

The news of ill health comes days after the North Korean dictator announced that owning pet dogs was now banned in North Korea, calling the act of domesticating pooches a reminder of ‘bourgeois decadence.’

“I assess him (Kim Jong Un) to be in a coma, but his life has not ended,” The Korea Herald quoted Chang Song-min, a former aide to late-South Korean president Kim Dae Jung, as saying. “A complete succession structure has not been formed, so Kim Yo-jong is being brought to the fore as the vacuum cannot be maintained for a prolonged period," he said. As per reports, the Supreme Leader had delegated part of his duties

Yo Jong has recently emerged as a new face in North Korea’s political leadership and is already been touted as a successor to the secretive nation’s governance. Yo Jong, 32, went viral across media earlier in the year when her brother reportedly fell ill in May, allowing her to step in and take control in his absence.


Here are some frequently asked questions about the elusive North Korean politician.

Who is Kim Yo Jong?

Kim Yo Jong is Jong Un’s little sister and of the five offsprings of N Korea’s former Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il and Ko Yong-hui. She is currently serving as the first vice director of the United Front Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea. She was reappointed in her position as an alternate Politburo of the Workers’ Party of Korea in April 2020 after serving her first term from 2017-19. Since the beginning of the year, Yo Jong was seen taking a leading role in a new, more hard-line pressure campaign against neighbour South Korea, highlighting what analysts say is a substantive policy role that goes beyond being her brother’s assistant.

Who is Kim Jong Un’s Successor?

Yo Jong has long been rumoured to be Jong Un’s sister. The 32-year-old is the only close relative of the North Korean leader to play a public role in politics. During the 2018-2019 flurry of international diplomacy, Kim Yo Jong garnered global attention by leading a delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Later, she was often seen dashing about to make sure everything went well for her older brother, including holding an ashtray for him at a train station on his way to a summit with US President Donald Trump in Vietnam. But in recent months, Yo Jung seems to have taken on a more hands-on role, especially since the nation’s anti-South Korean agenda came to the fore.

South Korea’s spy agency said the North’s 36-year-old leader had delegated part of his authority to his close aides, including his younger sister. In a private meeting with lawmakers last week, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said that “Kim Yo-jong, the first vice department director of the Workers’ Party Central Committee, is steering overall state affairs on the delegation,” though Kim her brother still maintains “absolute authority."

Is sister tougher than Kim Jong Un?

The sister of the elusive hard lining leader Kim Jong Un, Yo Jong is known for her tough and tenacious brand of politics, some media reports even citing that she was tougher than the North Korean dictator himself. In May, Yo Jong led the decimation of a Joint Liaison Office between North and South Korea in Kaesong over a diplomatic tussle with the country regarding some dissent flyers that had been flown in by activists questioning Jong Un’s policies. Blowing up the liaison office, built-in 2018 to improve inter-Korean communications, was a move both tactical and symbolic. With it, Jong Un not only put herself at the forefront of North Korea’s stand on South Korea but also emerged as one of the top leaders in the North Korean politburo after her brother Jon Un himself. The move is symbolic as blowing up a liaison office sends a powerful message. And spearheading the change is the tough Yo Jung. The Supreme Leader’s sister previously warned South Korea that she would shut down the liaison office.

How long has Kim Yo Jong been active in North Korean politics?

Yo Jong has worked behind the scenes in North Korea’s propaganda agencies, a role that led the United States to add her to a list of sanctioned senior officials in 2017 because of human rights abuses and censorship. In 2018, she became the first of the Kims to visit South Korea since the Korean War and has since been actively involved in the nuclear-armed nation’s international relations and diplomacy policies. In March, state media carried the first-ever statement by Kim, in which she criticized South Korean authorities. That was followed by several more, including a response to comments by Trump. Rising from the ranks of Jong Un’s younger sister to his personal assistant to now his “enforcer", experts have even surmised that Yo Jung would be an even tougher, more brutal ruler than her dictator brother. While her direct bloodline ensures her hold over the politburo, her trigger-happy debut has definitely drawn eyes.

Is Kim Jong Un dead or alive?

Reports of the Jung’s illness and succession instantly sparked rumours of the death of the 36-year-old leader who has been battling ill health for months now. The leader had disappeared previously in April as he received the treatment after an alleged heart attack. Ill health even kept him from attending the 108th wedding of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea. Korean spokespersons however confirmed to Fox News that the leader had not undergone any surgery in his three-week absence from public life in April. Nevertheless, reports of his alleged ill-health and even death (as some are speculating on social media) have sparked concerns on social media with global curiosity regarding the future of the secretive nation - Who will succeed Kim Il Jong in North Korea? The news of Jong Un’s ill health is of special interest to the world as analysts fear a possible destabilisation of peace and status quo in the elusive, nuclear-powered nation.

Who else can succeed Jong Un?

Yo Jong’s married her comrade Choe Song, who is the son of a secretary in the Workers’ Party in 2014. The duo has a son called Choe Ryong-hae, who had initially been touted as No 2 in line after Jong Un, being a male heir to the first Supreme Leader Kim Il Sung. The bombing led by Yo Jong in South Korea after Seoul’s failure to respond to her warnings, however, fueled speculation about the sister becoming Jong Un’s successor in the near future. The UFDWPK VP threatened to bolster its military presence in and near the Demilitarized Zone, a day after blowing up its liaison office with the South, prompting sharp criticism from Seoul amid approval within her party workers and leaders who hailed her for her tough stance.

Will North Korea get its first woman leader?

Will Jong Un’s sister become the first woman to rule the deeply male-dominated political sphere of North Korea and emerge its leader? She might just. If so, the shift will mark a landmark moment in the history of the East Asian nation, which has a deeply sexist society and politics. Women often do not share equal status as their male counterparts in corporate and political roles. In 1972, however, Korean government amended the constitution to ensure equal rights for women. If Jong Un’s sister indeed becomes the next Supreme Leader of North Korea, a nation dependent on male heirs to further their family name and trade, the leader might end up spearheading a new wave of women’s participation in North Korean polity and public life and also lead to empowerment while ensuring their rights.

(With inputs from Agencies)

(This story first appeared on Aug 24 2020)

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