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Kim Yo-jong: North Korean Leader’s Sister and Confidante

 North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un’s month-long absence from the public eye raised international suspicion about his health. Though Kim Jong-un has avoided public appearances previously, his absence at the most important event of the year - the commemoration of North Korea founder and his grandfather Kim Il Sung’s birthday on April 15 - was a major sign that something may be wrong with Kim Jong-un’s health. Since his rise to power in 2011, the 36-year-old dictator had always made an appearance at the ceremony, but this year was different.
Concerns over Kim Jong-un’s possible health issues have raised speculation and predictions over the possible successors to the leading role in the country, which has been ruled by one family for over seventy years and remains extremely secretive of its internal affairs. The nuclear-armed country has been already weakened economically after closing off its borders completely due to the Coronavirus Pandemic in January. North Korea continues to claim it’s Coronavirus-free, but South Korean intelligence suggests that the pandemic is progressing steadily throughout the country.
Kim Yo-jong portrait
Image Source: Jorge Silva/AP
In these extraordinary circumstances, the loss of a ruler could be an extreme blow to the regime of the country, especially in the absence of a known direct male descendant. One of the most likely candidates for the seat for the supreme leader is the dictator’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong, who has been her brother’s closest confidant and Number Two in the country throughout Kim Jong-un’s rule.

Who Is Kim Yo-jong?

The 31-year-old Kim Yo-jong is more than just a supportive sister of the extreme Kim Jong-un, many suggest that she helped the current ruler of North Korea come to power after his father’s death in 2008, a struggle for power that coincided with mass executions, the murder of Kim Jong-un’s older half-brother Kim Jong-nam and his uncle Jang Song Thaek. Kim Yo-jong is said to organize all major public events in North Korea and she is known as the mastermind behind the public image of her brother as a "man of the people” and a more progressive leader.

And to achieve that goal, the supreme leader’s sister gained more power than any woman in the history of North Korea - she has been appointed the vice-director and de facto leader of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, an alternate member of the Politburo - the highest authority in the entire country, and a rumored head of the State Security Department. The only other woman to ever hold a position in the politburo was Kim Kyong-hui, her aunt, who had a similar, but less important role in the public image of the previous ruler of North Korea, Kim Jong-il.

Kim Yo-jong together with Kim Jong-un
Image Source: Reuters
Throughout the years, Kim Yo-jong has been the diplomatic representative of the ruling dynasty abroad on several occasions, with the most noteworthy one being the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea, as it was the first-ever appearance of a member of the ruling Kim dynasty in South Korea since the Korean War. Needless to say, the story made headlines, and ever since then, Kim Yo-jong has been viewed as Kim Jong-un’s right hand. Since then, Kim Yo-jong participated in two summits with the United States and other public appearances.
But will her good reputation and trusted relationship with her brother be enough to make her the next successor to the seat of the supreme leader? Only time will tell, but experts have some interesting preliminary opinions and predictions.

How Likely is Kim Yo-jong to Rule North Korea?

Kim Yo-jong seems like the perfect candidate for the seat of North Korea’s supreme leader. First and foremost, she is part of the Paektu Mountain family bloodline - the reigning dynasty in North Korea. This is extremely important, as the cult of personality constructed around North Korean rulers relies heavily on blood relations, and ruling the country has been a family affair for decades.

Kim Yo-jong portrait 2
Image Source: Reddit
Second, Kim Yo-jong is clearly capable of running the country, as she has already done on several occasions during her brother’s sick leaves. In addition to that, the young woman is one of the very few North Korean officials recognized on an international level, even though not all of that publicity has been good, as she was added to the US “severe human rights abusers” list in 2017.

However, some experts state that all these characteristics may still not be enough to allow her to take over the country. Though she is reportedly both feared and respected at the Politburo, much of her reputation and power may rely on her brother’s position. In the past, Kim Yo-jong’s aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, had a similar position in the government during her brother’s rule, but ultimately lost her power with the beginning of Kim Jong-un’s reign and the public execution of her husband Jang Song Thaek for treason in 2013.

Kim Yo-jong meeting
After all, the North Korean regime is heavily based on Confucian values, which are extremely patriarchal and masculine, and the idea of a female ruler is not in line with this dogma. “North Korean politics and the three hereditary power transfers have been male-centered. I wonder whether she can really overcome bloody socialist power struggles and exercise her power,” said Nam Sung-Wook, a professor at Korea University in South Korea as he was quoted in an article by PBS.
So, judging from the country's history and tradition, Kim Yo-jong is unlikely to inherit the ruling position in the country. However, given that there are few suitable male candidates in the Kim dynasty, and the unusual circumstances of the pandemic, Kim Yo-jong may actually end up taking the seat of North Korea's next supreme leader if her brother is indeed in a critical health condition.
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