Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong was promoted to the politburo of North Korea’s workers’ party, indicating that the North Korean leader finds a close aide in her sister.
According to rumours, she is the architect behind his carefully constructed public image. Yo-Jong, who is four years younger than her brother, was barely seen in public until 2010, when she was photographed at a Korean Workers’ party conference. By the following year, she became a regular feature in her father Kim Jong-il’s entourage, and was spotted mourning along with her brother after their father’s death in December 2011.
Kim Jong-un is a Red Devil
The North Korean state media first officially mentioned her when in March 2014 when she accompanied Kim Jong-un for the supreme people’s assembly. Rumours suggest that she briefly held the reins of the state during her brother’s prolonged absence from public life due to an undisclosed illness in the autumn of that year.
After Kim Jong-un’s appointment as the third leader of the Kim dynasty, his sister is often seen by his side during “field guidance trips” and other public events. Her promotion on Saturday shows that her brother’s deep trust in her and makes her one of the two most visible women in North Korean public life, along with the leader’s wife, Ri Sol-ju.
Late in 2014, Kim Yo-jong was appointed as the vice-director of the party’s propaganda and agitation department, a role she used to construct a public image of her brother that included presenting him as a benevolent, approachable leader, mirroring the personality of his grandfather and North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung.
She is said to be the inspiration behind his visits to theme parks, schools and houses of ordinary people, and his unusual friendship with former NBA player Dennis Rodman.
Family links to Kim Jong-un are no assurance of favourable treatment or even survival, as the leader seeks to cement his power through purges which have affected almost 140 senior military and government officials. In 2013, he ordered the execution of his uncle and close adviser, Jang Song-thaek. He is also suspected of being involved in the murder of his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam at Kuala Lumpur airport in February.
Kim and Yo-jong, however, have the same mother: Ko Yong-hui, a Japanese-born former dancer who is believed to be Kim Jong-il’s third partner.
Experts say Yo-jong’s ascension to alternate member of the politburo – the state’s top decision-making body – signifies she is Kim Jong-un’s replacement for his aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, a member of his father’s close circle who does not play an active part in the new administration.
China confirms will limit oil exports to North Korea
Her promotion indicates a generational shift, as Kim seeks to dissociate himself with his father’s aides, according to some analysts.
“Through the personnel reshuffle, the Kim Jong-un regime has ended its co-existence with the remnants of the previous Kim Jong-il regime by carrying out a generational replacement in the party’s key elite posts,” Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, told Yonhap news agency.
Like other members of the regime, there is little verifiable information about Kim Yo-jong’s life. She is thought to be in her late 20s, although some reports estimate her age to be 30. She reportedly attended attended primary school in Berne, Switzerland, in the late 1990s – the same time as Kim Jong-un – before studying computer science at the esteemed Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang.
According to an employee at the boarding school, the siblings lived in a private residence, protected by staff and bodyguards, according to the North Korea Leadership Watch website. Her father attempted to ease her loneliness by sending North Korean musicians to Switzerland for her company, the site says.
Nothing is known about Kim Yo-jong’s life during the time after her university education and 2007, when she started playing a junior role in the ruling party. In the late 2000s she was occupied in arranging her brother’s succession to supreme leader – a more important issue after their father suffered two strokes in 2008.
She apparently married Choe Song, the son of the Workers’ party vice chairman Choe Ryong-hae, in early 2015, and had a child in May that year. According to the official KCNA news agency, her husband was promoted to the party’s powerful military commission last weekend.
Yo-jong has been on the radar of US officials, who in January included her and other North Korean officials on a blacklist for “severe human rights abuses”.
This article originally appeared in The Guardian.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ