Is Kim Jong Un (김정은) still alive or gravely ill? The jury is still out on the North Korean Supreme Leader’s health. CNN reported that his condition has been deteriorating after undergoing surgery.
As the speculation continues, all eyes are on Kim Yo Jong (김여정) – the younger sister who is tipped to be Kim Jong Un’s successor if he dies. Little is known about the world’s first potential female dictator, so here are some fun facts about her:
1. Who is Kim Yo Jong?
Born on 26th September 1987, Yo Jong is the 5th and youngest child of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Her mum, Ko Yong Hui, was the former leader’s second mistress.
She was only 9 when she was sent to Berne in Switzerland for elementary school. Word has it that it was during this period when she formed a close bond with older brother Kim Jong Un. The pair not only had their own private home, but also chef, housekeeping staff, and bodyguards.
2. Personal life
She is married to Choe Song, the son of top North Korean military official and politician Choe Ryong Hae. They tied the knot in 2014 and allegedly have 2 children – one born in 2015 and the other in 2018.
3. Public appearance
According to reports, Kim Yo Jong was rarely seen in public until 2010, when she was photographed at a party conference, leading up to her father’s death in 2011. It is also believed that she was instrumental in helping Kim Jong Un ascend to Supreme Leader.
Her first job in a state news was a “senior official” of the ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee. Since then, she has been climbing up the ladder of the communist Workers’ Party of Korea.
- 2014: She was named First Deputy Director of the Workers Party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department. She also accompanied her brother during elections that year.
- 2017: She became a member of the politburo, the party’s most senior ruling committee.
- 2018: She represented North Korea at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
- 2019: She attended the Singapore summit on 11th June between Donald Trump and the North Korean leader.
4. Her brother’s confidant
Throughout Kim Jong Un’s reign, Kim Yo Jong has been there to witness her brother’s ruthlessness up close. One example is during the execution of their uncle Jang Song Thaek in 2013 by antiaircraft guns and flamethrowers.
“North Korean media’s handling of Kim Yo Jong seems to indicate that she plays a significant role across the gamut of issues, ranging from domestic politics and economy and weapons development to inter-Korean and Sino-DPRK relations,” Joel Wit, director of 38 North and a former State Department officials, told VICE News.
“It remains unclear whether Kim Yo Jong has been involved in shaping and executing Pyongyang’s U.S. policy, and if so, how deeply. However, her apparently close involvement in the Kim Jong Un regime’s policy-making and policy execution suggests that she will take a similar path to what her brother has taken,” Wit added.
5. Will there be an issue of her becoming Supreme Leader?
It is known that Kim Jong Un has at least 2 children but they’re far too young to lead. While there’s no question to Kim Yo Jong’s legitimacy (as the Kim family are seen as god-like), North Korea’s structure and ideology makes it hard for a woman to rule.
“Sooner or later she would be removed from her post and replaced either by a male member of the Kim clan or by the collective leadership representing the Korean Workers Party and Korean People’s Army,” said Leonid Petrov, one of Australia’s leading North Korea experts. After all, North Korea is a Confucian country where seniority and masculinity are respected.
Having said that, some experts think her recent high profile activities on the international stage may help her cement her status. “She is the natural heir to the throne, as the Kim family regime is more a dynasty than a republic,” Korea expert Sung Yoon Lee said. “One thing Ms. Kim has going for herself and her prospects for regime preservation is that she is a known entity both within and outside North Korea. She has met face to face with Trump, Xi, and Moon. She exudes a softer side of the ruthless tyrannical system that is North Korea.”
6. Comparison between the siblings
It’s no coincidence that Kim Yo Jong has been front and center in recent times. Prof Natasha Lindstaedt, an expert on totalitarian regimes shared, “If she became supreme leader she would become god-like and every portrayal of her would do the same thing.”
“It is possible she will adopt an even harder line than her brother in dealing with the rest of the world because of the level of poverty. There is nothing else – it is all they have. I do believe she is as tough as her brother and she has been very visible in recent times. Often new leaders feel they must be tougher than the previous one,” she added.