Could Kim Yo-jong (or Kim Yo-chong) be the next Supreme Leader of North Korea? Some are beginning to speculate she may be named as the possible successor amid rumors of Kim Jong-un’s declining health or possible death.
Sister to Kim Jong-un, the 30-something 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.
Most 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 Germany’s Angela Merkle 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.”