Kim Jong-un’s sister emerges as key figure in North Korea

November 28, 2014

Appointed deputy director of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party

A TV screen shows Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's younger sister, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014. North Korea has revealed that Kim is a senior official in the ruling Workers' Party, strengthening analysts' views that she is an increasingly important part of the family dynasty that runs the country. The letters read "Kim Jong Un's sister". (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

A TV screen shows Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014. North Korea has revealed that Kim is a senior official in the ruling Workers’ Party, strengthening analysts’ views that she is an increasingly important part of the family dynasty that runs the country. The letters read “Kim Jong Un’s sister”. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

By Jun Ji-hye

The younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has emerged as a key figure in the repressive nation’s regime after being appointed deputy director of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.

Pyongyang’s official mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), confirmed Kim Yo-jong’s official title Thursday amid growing speculation over her political role and stature in the government.

The KCNA disclosed her formal title while reporting leader Kim’s visit to a cartoon film studio in Pyongyang. Yo-jong was among Kim’s entourage.

Both Kim Jong-un, reportedly 31, and Yo-jong, 27, were born to Ko Yong-hui, known as the third wife of late leader Kim Jong-il. They lived in Pyongyang together and went to the same boarding school in Switzerland.

As the only younger sister of the current leader, she was often seen accompanying him on public activities, but this is the first time that Pyongyang’s state controlled media have revealed her official title.

It has not been confirmed which department she is responsible for, while media reports and North Korean experts speculate that she probably belongs to a department in charge of propagating the North Korea system, or a department for managing the leadership of the isolated state.

The confirmation showed that Yo-jong is apparently being groomed to play a key supporting role for her brother in the absence of their once-powerful aunt Kim Kyong-hui.

She disappeared from the public eye after her husband and former No. 2 man in the Kim Jong-un regime, Jang Song-thaek, was executed in December last year.

The Ministry of Unification refused to answer questions on whether the government here views Yo-jong as a substitute for Kim Kyong-hui.

Some observers say that Yo-jong currently holds the vice ministerial post, but that her actual political status appears to be much higher, indicating that her ranking has already surpassed that of her aunt.

“It is uncertain which committee she is working for in the North, but one thing that is certain is that she appears to be playing a considerably important role there,” said Koh Yoo-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University.

The professor pointed out, considering that Kim Jong-un’s leadership is still at a precarious stage, “Yo-jong’s influence would be bigger than expected because she might be one of a few figures on whom Kim Jong-un can rely, given that the two share the same blood.”

Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at a Seoul National University institute, also said that Yo-jong seems to be more influential than Kim Kyong-hui was.

“Yo-jong is playing a substantive role in creating Kim Jong-un’s image as a people-oriented leader, standing at the core of his efforts to solidify his power base,” he said.

In video footage broadcast by KCNA, Yo-jong is seen wearing a green field jacket and a dark blue skirt and offering a broad smile while listening to conversations between her brother and other high-ranking officials.

The South Korean government believes that she is working in the propaganda department of the party, because among the entourage with her was propaganda secretary Kim Ki-nam. An official from the Ministry of Unification also noted that her father, Kim Jong-il, served in the department while he was being groomed to become the nation’s leader.

However, Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, offered a different view, commenting that she seems more likely to be in charge of the leadership’s management department.

“Yo-jong appeared in the North’s media in March 9 for the first time. At that time, she accompanied figures all related to the leadership management such as Choe Ryong-hae, a secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party,” Cheong said. “It is premature to decide whether she is in charge of propaganda department.”

Kim Jong-un, meanwhile, affirmed his affection for animation.

Touring the Korean April 26 Cartoon Film Studio, he said that his visit was intended to “bring about a fresh turn in animation and, through this, put the film making in full progress,” said the KCNA.

He was quoted as adding that animation films “play an important role” in educating people and promoting a revolutionary spirit.

In 2012, actors dressed as Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters performed during a concert held in Pyongyang for Kim.

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