News World Feminine touch or iron fist? What we know about North Korea’s Kim Yo-jong

Feminine touch or iron fist? What we know about North Korea’s Kim Yo-jong

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After a few weeks without an appearance, the power void left by Kim Jong-un in North Korea was filled by a familiar face: His sister.

The world had been paying close attention to the Supreme Leader’s health after an unexplained disappearance but he resurfaced again at a  politburo meeting to address the pandemic and a looming typhoon.

But in his absence, a speculatory contender for his mantle emerged.

So who is Kim Yo-jong? And will she change North Korea for the better, or will she be even more brutal than her predecessors?

Kim Yo-jong
Kim Yo-jong has become a key figure in the country’s propaganda and agitation department. Photo: AAP

Like all things in North Korea, Ms Kim’s life has been shrouded in secrecy.

Even her birthday is in dispute, though most believe she is 32 years old.

Here’s what we know.

The youngest Kim sibling

Ms Kim is the youngest of five children to Kim Jong-il, the former Supreme Leader.

She attended high school with her brother Mr Kim in Bern, Switzerland, using the alias of Pak Mi Hyang to protect her identity.

She reportedly lived in an apartment with her brother, uncle and aunt, and was frequently visited by a private chef and a team of bodyguards.

Kim Yo-jong and her brother Kim Jong-un went to school in Bern, Switzerland. Photo: Getty

Her father would reportedly send North Korean music to remind her of home. Ms Kim graduated with a computer science degree.

She is believed to be married to Choe Song, the son of a powerful military official Choe Ryong-hae.

Her eldest brother Kim Jong-nam was considered the heir to the throne, but was assassinated in 2017 at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Kim Jong-nam assassination
A still image from airport CCTV shows Kim Jong-nam talking to airport security officials after he was attacked with VX nerve agent. Photo: Fuji Television via AP 

Politics and patriarchy

Ms Kim served as the first vice director of the United Front Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

In recent years, she has boosted her political profile by accompanying her brother on important diplomatic trips, including meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump.

South Korean news outlets claim she has been made North Korea’s “de facto second in command”.

Kim Yo-jong shaking hands with Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s top national security adviser. Photo: Getty

Her biggest downfall, however, is her gender.

It’s unlikely the people of patriarchal North Korea would accept a woman filling the shoes of Supreme Leader, according to Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor of North Korean Studies at Korea University.

“(There is) not only the male-dominant leadership but also ordinary people there would resist a female leader,” he told Canada’s National Post in April. 

Kim Jong-un’s declining health spells trouble for the regime. Photo: KCNA

Instead, Mr Yoo said her role would be “limited to a regent at most”.

A back-up option is the Kim siblings’ uncle, Kim Pyong-il, who has served as a diplomat across Europe.

A feminine touch, or an iron fist?

Ambitious, smart and eager to prove herself, it is possible Ms Kim will be even crueller than her brother, warn some political commentators.

“I haven’t seen any evidence, any indication of how she might rule, but my speculation – given the reputation and history of the family – is that she would rule with an iron fist,” retired US Army colonel David Maxwell told the New York Post. 

“I think we have to assume that every successor is worse than the last.”

And while global attention is fixed on the potential takeover, a separate power grab with arguably bigger implications could be just around the corner – in the United States.

US President Donald Trump with Kim Jong-un in 2019. Photo: Getty

“Mr Kim’s health is important, but what it also important is what happens in the United States,” Dr Leonid Petrov, a North Korea lecturer at the Australian National University, told The New Daily. 

“People in Korea – north and south – are anxiously waiting for the November election because Donald Trump was an important agent of change in North Korea in 2018.

“So the question is whether this dialogue is going to continue, or if it’s going to be another era of strategic patience because if Joe Biden wins the election he is likely to disengage from dialogue with Kim Jong-un.”

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