Who Is Kim Yo-Jong, Sister of North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un?

Kim Yo-jong appears appears at the 2018 Inter-Korean Summit alongside her brother Kim Jong-un.
Kim Yo-jong appears appears at the 2018 Inter-Korean Summit alongside her brother Kim Jong-un. (Getty)

Could Kim Yo-jong (or Kim Yo-chong) be the next Supreme Leader of North Korea? Some experts believe she is being positioned to take control of the Hermit Kingdom amid rumors that Kim Jong-un may have fallen into a coma "but his life has not ended," said former diplomat Chang Song-min, who once served as an aide to South Korea's late-President Kim Dae-jung.

Sister to Kim Jong-un, the 30-something has reportedly been taking a bigger role in politics. She has likely taken over the the North Korean Worker’s Party's Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), a powerful and highly secretive governmental body meant to guide daily life as laid out by the Party's ideology, according to the Committee of Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), a U.S.-based organization that has done extensive research on the OGD. The OGD is "the heart" of the Party and "its authority is absolute," the HRNK has said. This belief is also supported by South Korea's defense minister, who on Tuesday told CNN that Kim Yo Jung is effectively running the OGD.

Previous to her recent rise in power, Kim made her first public appearance in politics in December 2011, during the funeral processions of her father and former Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il. She most likely studied in Berne, Switzerland as a child, and went onto be a student at Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang.

More recently, she attended 2019 North Korea-United States Hanoi Summit with Donald Trump by her brother’s side and represented North Korea during the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, sitting behind Mike Pence. She is believed to be the Deputy Director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the highest party body in the state, according to the North Korea Leadership Watch, an organization that analyzes North Korea and an affiliate of 38 North.

“Kim Yo-jong would be the most logical successor,” journalist Barbara Demick told InsideEdition.com. Demick was the former Los Angeles Times’ Seoul bureau chief and has covered human rights in North Korea extensively.

Officially, Kim Jong-un has no named successor. Previous successors had been designated long before the death of the leader, Demick explained, and “there's just no obvious line of succession in his children, they're toddlers.”

But based on the governing style of the Hermit Kingdom, the options are limited. North Korea is run sort of like a monarchy, with the Kim dynasty at the top of the throne being revered in a God-like manner. Their legitimacy is based on the Mount Baekdu bloodline, which refers to the highest and most sacred mountain on the Korean peninsula, on which Kim Il-sung fought off the Japanese occupation, and where his son Kim Jong-il was born.

“Family is very important in North Korea because their legitimacy is this sort of sacred bloodline through Kim Il-sung,” Demick explained. “It's hard to imagine the current leadership, the current style of leadership, staying intact without a family member.”

Kim Jong-un’s eldest brother, Kim Jong-nam was assassinated in February 2017, and second oldest brother, Kim Jong-chul, is often described as effeminate, and according to a former sushi chef for the family, with “the warm heart of a girl.” Given those details, Kim Yo-jong may be the clearest choice.

In addition to have been “thought [of] very highly” by the late Kim Jong-il, according to Demick, Kim Yo-jong is also married to Choe Song, who is believed to be the son of Choe Ryong Hae, “one of the most powerful officials in the DPRK’s formal hierarchy” and a “close aide to Kim Jong-un,” according to the North Korea Leadership Watch.

But is North Korea ready for a female leader?

“It's always been said that a woman couldn't take charge of North Korea because it's such a …  sexist country and probably one of the worst in Asia as far as women's equality,” Demick said. “Although she’s supposedly in a position of power and you’ve seen her in public, she’s been in a very supportive role. In Hanoi, she was like carrying his ash tray and fetching flowers, kind of like the tea ladies.” 

Demick also pointed to South Korea’s own history with Park Geun-hye, the first female president of the country who was elected in 2013 and impeached in 2017 under charges of abuse of power and coercion. But some have said the charges against her were rooted in misogyny rather than her failures in office. Demick agreed, saying, “They tore her apart," and noted that North Korea’s history of female empowerment is far behind that of the South.

But with female heads of state like New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen being lauded in their leadership during the coronavirus pandemic, Demick muses that North Korea may also be ripe for change.

“Maybe the time has come to change,” she speculated. “Maybe the time is right for a female leader in North Korea.”

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