As questions surrounding North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s possible death reach a fever pitch, Kim Yo Jong—the disappearing dictator’s sister and closest confidante—takes the spotlight and, maybe, the top job.
While she rocketed to international attention during the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Yo Jong (like many in her family) is a somewhat mysterious figure, with basic details like her exact age (somewhere in her early thirties), unconfirmed by the North Korean regime.
A favorite of her late father Kim Jong Il, she attended school in Switzerland, The Washington Post reports, where she took ballet lessons before returning to North Korea in the early 2000s.
Nicknamed the “Ivanka Trump of North Korea,” Kim Yo Jong said last month that President Trump and her brother had “special and firm personal relations,” despite the ongoing conflict around the latter’s nuclear weapons, an arsenal the rising leader seems inclined to protect.
Responsible for pushing North Korean propaganda and protecting her brother’s reputation, she recently called South Korea a “frightened dog barking” for objecting to a live-fire military demonstration by the state, the Guardian notes.
In a sign of her growing power, Yo Jong was named an alternate member of the Politburo earlier this month.
Kim Yo Jong as a girl: this is the earliest photo we have of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister, taken while she was at school in Switzerland. pic.twitter.com/LrDFgGBzdt— Anna Fifield (@annafifield) February 8, 2018
“She is smart, calculating, and who knows how much power she has been able to build working in the shadows?” North Korean expert Bruce Bennett told the Daily Beast.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
“Among the North’s power elite, Kim Yo Jong has the highest chance to inherit power, and I think that possibility is more than 90%,” an analyst told the Associated Press. However, she’s not the only one who may be jockeying for the promotion, and the country’s patriarchal structure may undercut her chances. Some speculate that a collective leadership spearheaded by ceremonial head of state Choe Ryong Hae may be implemented, ending the Kim family’s dynastic reign. Kim Yo Jong may serve only as a temporary leader in the interim. And of course, any replacement hinges on Kim Jong Un’s actual death or incapacitation, which is still unknown.
Kim’s last official public appearance was April 11, where according to North Korean state media reports, he held a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party committee of policymakers. While it’s not unusual for him to disappear from the public eye for even weeks at a time, speculation has mounted that the leader, who has a history of health problems, is either dead or gravely ill.
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