North Korea watch: Who’s in charge, little sister or her really big brother?

by WorldTribune Staff, January 5, 2021

Kim Yo-Jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, is reportedly poised to become the first woman dictator in modern history. Some who watch the secretive nation even believe she may have already ascended to that position.

“The star of the younger sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un has risen so fast and high in the country’s ruling firmament as to make her appear as a stand-in for big brother if not his rival for power,” columnist Donald Kirk noted in an analysis for The Daily Beast.

Kim Yo-Jong walks ahead of her brother Kim Jong-Un who speaks with South Korean President Moon Jae-In. / AP

Packing 300-plus pounds on his 5-foot-7-inch frame, Kim Jong-Un is said to be battling undisclosed ailments ranging from diabetes to heart disease. There’s even speculation that he may have contracted covid. Kim’s health problems are said to have been serious enough to keep him out of sight for rather lengthy periods.

At 32, four years younger than her brother, Kim Yo-Jong “has made her presence known through shockingly tough statements” that Kim Jong-Un “had to have endorsed but she clearly wrote and recommended,” Kirk wrote.

Kim Yo-Jong slammed North Korean defectors in South Korea who were sending balloons containing leaflets critical of the Kim regime into North Korea.

The defectors were “human scum hardly worth their value as human beings,” “little short of wild animals who betrayed their own homeland,” Kim Yo-Jong said. It was “time to bring their owners to account” and ask “south (sic) Korean authorities if they are ready to take care of the consequences of evil conduct by the rubbish-like mongrel dogs who took no scruple to slander us while faulting the ‘nuclear issue’ in the meanest way at the most untimely time.”

Kim Yo Jong’s “colorful rhetoric — more extreme than anything her brother has put out publicly since taking the reins after the death of their father, Kim Jong-Il, nine years ago — struck a responsive chord” in Seoul, Kirk noted.

Last month, South Korea’s national assembly, dominated by the ruling party of leftist President Moon Jae-In, made it illegal to fire off not only leaflets but also candy bars and dollar bills and USB devices bringing traces of the good life south of the demilitarized zone to the hunger- and poverty-stricken North.

“Moon himself adopted a turn-the-other-cheek policy after North Korean soldiers on June 16, at the behest of Kim Yo-Jong, via the army, blew up the joint liaison office in the shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex just north of the DMZ,” Kirk noted. “The blast, heard for miles around, showed she had meant it when she warned South Koreans to ‘get themselves ready’ for ‘shutdown’ of the office ‘whose existence only adds to trouble,’ ” Kirk wrote.

The day before the Kaesong explosion, Moon Jae-In had called on both sides “to move forward, one step at a time, down the road to national reconciliation, peace, and reunification.”

Kim Yo-Jong called Moon’s conciliatory words “a string of shameless and impudent words full of incoherence” and “shameless perfidy.”

Moon left it to a spokesman to call her criticism “an insensible act that fundamentally damages the trust” supposedly built up at Moon’s four meetings with Kim Jong-Un.

“The fact that Kim Yo-Jong so easily violated that trust means she’s more than just a power behind the throne,” Kirk wrote.

Kim Yo-Jong heads up the North’s fearsome Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), a mysterious agency that watches all that’s going on in the government, the ruling party and the top levels of the army. She has the authority to exact penalties ranging from exile to minor posts in the countryside to imprisonment and death.

Her exact title is first vice director of the OGD, said Lee Sung-Yoon, a professor at Tuft University’s Fletcher School, “but her blue blood supersedes formal titles.” Lee, who is writing a book about her, said “she is the de facto No. 2 in the DPRK (North Korean) hierarchy and the only true confidante of consequence for Kim Jong-Un.”

Kim Yo-Jong is also believed also to be first vice director of the United Front Department. The title, Lee said, may not seem all powerful, but the meaning is clear: “By the authority granted by her brother Kim Jong-Un, the Party, and the State, she will henceforth punish South Korea, which she designated an ‘enemy.’ ”

Kirk noted that Kim Yo-Jong “obviously could not have risen to such heights had she not been Kim Jong-Il’s daughter, but she’s shown remarkable charm, wit and strength in bypassing other family members.”

One other brother, Kim Jong-Chol, who’s three or four years older than Kim Jong-Un, is said to have been discarded by their father as “too effeminate” to be a proper heir to any position.

And there was the eldest half-brother, Kim Jong-Nam, born of Kim Jong-Il’s first mistress, discarded by their father as too much a playboy to be his heir and relegated to exile in Macao. Still seeing him as dangerous, Kim Jong-Un in 2017 had him assassinated. As Kim Jong-Nam was about to fly back to Macao from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, two female operatives smeared a liquid on his face that turned out to be a VX chemical agent that killed him within minutes.

Could a similar fate be awaiting Kim Yo-Jong?

“Despite her best efforts, she cannot help but arouse concerns that big brother sooner or later will decide he’s had enough of her and isolate or even get rid of her, as he’s done with other members of his own family,” Kirk noted.

Kim Jong Un “would not like the outside media characterizing him as potentially dead or dying and his sister as a potential replacement,” said Bruce Bennett, Korea analyst at Rand. “That could undermine his position inside North Korea.” Still, “she may have been functioning strongly within North Korea,” dealing with internal matters while her brother works on “regaining the external media focus for himself.”

Even amid her quick rise in power, Kim Yo-Jong still “knows how to keep her head down,” Kirk wrote. “One sure way to disappear would be to undercut a paranoid character who can’t stand real competition but may not always be physically up to the job.”

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