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In patriarchal North Korea, a new decision maker: Kim Jong Un’s sister

Kim Jong Un (Zennie Abraham/Flickr)

There’s a new Kim in town in North Korea: Kim Yo Jong, the 28-year-old, ponytailed sister of Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong Un, was promoted Sunday to the hermit kingdom’s highest decision-making body for affairs of state.

Kim Yo Jong was selected as an “alternate member” of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee within the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, the North’s official state Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The Political Bureau largely exists to rubber stamp Kim Jong Un’s decisions, but as an alternate member Kim Yo Jong will be able to take part in policy debates, including military ones, according to the website North Korea Leadership Watch.

Kim Yo Jong’s promotion came at a meeting of senior party members as North Korea marked the 20th anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s acceptance of the title of general secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. Kim Jong Il is Kim Jong Un’s father. He was the country’s supreme leader from 1994 until his death in 2011.

Tuesday is the anniversary of the founding of the party, a date that analysts and the South Korean and Russian governments have suggested North Korea could mark by testing a long-range missile capable of striking the United States.

Washington and Pyongyang have been trading insults for weeks and tensions remain high amid North Korea’s insistence it won’t back down over its nuclear program. “Our country has been unsuccessfully dealing with North Korea for 25 years, giving billions of dollars & getting nothing. Policy didn’t work!” President Trump tweeted Monday.

North Korea last tested a missile on Sept. 15.

Kim Yo Jong’s elevation also came as two women — one Indonesian, the other Vietnamese — were being tried in Malaysia for their alleged role in the killing of Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Un’s estranged half brother, at Kuala Lumpur’s airport in February. Kim Jong Nam had been living a luxurious life outside of North Korea. Malaysian investigators suspect the North may have had a hand in his death.

In the past, Kim Yo Jong worked as deputy director of the Workers’ Party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department. She becomes only the second women after her aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, to join the Political Bureau. The move appears to indicate she is an increasingly important part of the family dynasty that runs the country.

Like information about her brother, who is rumored to be 33, few details of Kim Yo Jong life have been confirmed. But like her brother, she studied in Switzerland. She is then thought to have studied computer science at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang.

Kim Yo Jong has rarely been seen in public, although she has appeared in photos published in state media. Often, her hair is pulled back in a bun or ponytail and she is wearing a dark suit and heels. The siblings have the same mother: Ko Yong Hui, a former dancer who was born in Japan and was Kim Jong Il’s second or third partner.

Some accounts published in South Korean media suggest Kim Yo Jong is behind her brother’s attempts to improve his public image by visiting schools and factories and may have encouraged his unlikely friendship with basketball star Dennis Rodman.

For now, Kim Jong Nam appears to be in favor. However, bloodline is not a guarantee of safety in Kim Jong Un’s North Korea. Kim Kyong Hui, his aunt, has not been seen for several years. She could be under house arrest or dead. Her husband, a high-ranking general, was executed in 2013 for alleged disloyalty. Kim Jong Chol, Kim Jong Un’s elder brother, was last seen two years ago at an Eric Clapton concert in London.


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