North Korea: The rise and rise of ‘first sister’ Kim Yo-jong

PRESTON (UK): When the president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, recently called for an end to the war on the Korean peninsula, the initial response was a rejection from the North Korean Vice Foreign Minister. This has been Pyongyang’s standard response whenever the idea of ​​turning the 1953 armistice between the two warring Koreas into an actual peace treaty has been raised.
So it was a surprise when, the next day, a warmer message emerged from Kim Yo-jong, the sister of the supreme leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, who declared that the idea was “admirable”. However, he specified a number of preconditions that should be met:
What must be put aside are double treatment attitudes, illogical prejudices, bad habits and the hostile posture of justifying their own actions while criticizing our fair exercise of the right to self-defense.
This is the kind of message one would expect to come from Kim Jong-un himself, which is why it sparked a round of discussion from Korean media watchers about how much weight the world can give a statement from his younger sister. .
Who is Kim Yo-jong?
The supreme leader’s sister first attracted international attention in 2018, when she became the first member of North Korea’s Kim dynasty to officially visit South Korea. He was part of the nation’s delegation to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, in which the two countries competed as one team. He had a meeting with President Moon and appeared on photo opportunities alongside the Vice President of the United States. Mike pence and the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. Images of his dominated coverage in North Korea.
Following what was reported as his diplomatic triumph at the Winter Olympics, his profile grew when he met with the Chinese president. Xi Jinping, and was present at the three face-to-face meetings between his brother and former US President Donald Trump.
However, little is known about Kim Yo-jong’s childhood, even his birth date is clouded by uncertainty. She is the youngest daughter in former Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il’s relationship with Ko Yong-hui, who was originally from Japan and therefore would have been considered a lower caste in Korea’s complex “songbun” system. if Kim Jong-il had done it. The official record on its origin was not removed. It is understood that Kim Yo-jong attended the same private school with his older brother in Bern, Switzerland, after which he attended Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang, where he studied computer science.
In 2009, Kim Jong-il’s poor health made the succession a matter of urgent debate and it became increasingly clear that Kim Jong-un was being groomed to assume leadership after his death. But at Kim Jong-il’s funeral, Kim Yo-jong was photographed alongside older members of the family.
He has been elevated to the Politburo twice, in 2017 to 2019 and from 2020 to 2021. In addition, he is also head of the Department of Propaganda and Agitation, in which capacity he has promoted the cult of personality that surrounds his brother and has made periodic statements on North Korea’s foreign relations.
She is believed to be married to Choe Song, the youngest son of the Korean Workers’ Party secretary Choe Ryong Hae, giving her another source of political power.
Heir apparent?
How much power does Kim Yo-jong really wield? An incident from June 2020 shows the extent to which he can exercise his will in North Korea. In retaliation for South Korean defectors’ use of balloons to launch propaganda leaflets in the North, he warned that he had ordered the department in charge of inter-Korean affairs to “decisively carry out the following action,” adding that : “Before long, you would see a tragic scene of the useless joint north-south liaison office completely collapsed.”
The next day, the building exploded, suggesting that when Kim Yo-jong orders something, it happens.
Another interesting episode may shed some light on the power relations between her and her brother. In March 2020, Kim Yo-jong issued his first official statement, lashing out at South Korea’s presidential office, the so-called Blue House, which had asked North Korea to halt its live-fire exercises. He referred to leadership as “a mere child” and “a burned-out child who fears fire.”
Two days later, Kim Jong-un sent a message of condolence for the Covid-19 outbreak in the south. This “underscored his unwavering friendship and trust towards President Moon and said that he will continue to silently send his best wishes for President Moon to overcome.” The message confused Korean observers as to whether the brothers disagreed on North-South relations or whether it was a display of “good cop and bad cop” diplomacy.
It is about a family in which many of the potential male contenders for power have been executed or killed, including Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s half-brother who was killed with the nerve agent VX at the Kuala Lumpur airport. in Malaysia in 2017; and his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who was reportedly executed by firing squad in 2013 after being accused of being a counterrevolutionary.
So the status of Kim Yo-jong’s relationship with his brother is as scrutinized as Kim Jong-un’s physical health when it comes to whether, and when, he might be in a position to challenge for supreme power in North Korea. .
In North Korea, it seems that to achieve leadership it is necessary to seize the trinitarian power of the army, the party and the people. Both Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un became leading figures in the National Defense Commission (NDC), the military, as well as the party through the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP). Both had developed their cult of personality, giving them access to people.
Kim Yo-jong may have achieved name recognition in his capacity as a foreign affairs spokesperson and has access to power in the KWP. But she has not yet been appointed to a position at the NDC. If that happens soon, it could be a sign that North Korea is gearing up for its first female leader.
Source: The Conversation

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