Of all of the members of the family who might ultimately take the reins from North Korean chief Kim Jong Un, his sister looks like the apparent selection.
Kim Yo Jong, in her early 30s, has been by her brother’s aspect at summits with US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, sat behind Vice President Mike Pence whereas representing North Korea on the 2018 Winter Olympics and have become the primary instant member of the ruling household to go to Seoul, the place she delivered a private message from her brother inviting South Korean President Moon Jae-in to a summit.
The greatest potential hang-up: She’s a girl in a society rigidly managed by males. While many North Korea watchers say bloodline is extra essential than gender, others are skeptical.
“Yo Jong’s role will likely be limited to a regent at most” as a consequence of North Korea’s feudal patriarchy, mentioned Yoo Ho-yeol, who teaches North Korean research at Korea University and previously suggested South Korea’s unification ministry and protection ministry. “Not only the male-dominant leadership, but also ordinary people there would resist a female leader.”
The query of whether or not Kim Yo Jong will turn out to be North Korea’s first girl chief has all of a sudden turn out to be entrance and heart as questions on her brother’s well being intensify. Kim Jong Un hasn’t appeared in state media in two weeks, prompting a flurry of reviews suggesting he could possibly be incapacitated.
The Kim household dynasty has dominated North Korea for 3 generations since its founding after World War II, when the Soviet Union and the U.S. divided up management of the Korean Peninsula. Over that point, it has constructed up one of many world’s most vigorous persona cults — making the preeminent declare to legitimacy within the dictatorship a bloodline mentioned to stem from the sacred Mount Paektu close to the Chinese border.
When Kim Jong Un took energy after his father’s demise in 2011, the large query was whether or not a frontrunner in his 20s might rule a rustic that revered seniority. He quickly exerted authority over geriatric generals and eradicated potential rivals: He executed his uncle and one-time deputy, Jang Song Thaek, and was suspected to have ordered the assassination of his exiled older half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, in Malaysia.
In some ways, Kim Yo Jong — who has spent practically a decade enmeshed within the state equipment — has been higher groomed to take excessive management function. She might additionally equally shock anybody who doubts her skill to run the nation, in response to Soo Kim, a Rand Corp. coverage analyst who focuses on Korean Peninsula points.
‘Begins and Ends’
“I don’t think she needs to worry about gaining acceptance as a leader by the North Korean people by virtue of her Kim family bloodline,” Soo Kim mentioned. “North Korea’s fate begins and ends with the Kim family.”
The different potential male Kim heirs are youthful or much less skilled within the halls of energy in Pyongyang. His brother Kim Jong Chol has no official title and appears to be extra curious about taking part in guitar than politics, whereas his nephew, Kim Han Sol, has denounced the regime and is believed to be dwelling overseas.
South Korean media reported that Kim Jong Un has a 10-year-old son, however none of his youngsters have been formally talked about in state media. Thae Yong Ho, the previous No. 2 at North Korea’s embassy in London who defected to South Korea, mentioned in a radio interview that one potential successor is Kim Pyong Il, the one surviving son of North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung who returned to the nation final yr following 4 a long time abroad serving as a diplomat.
“Those who’re serving Kim Jong Un are the first generation in their 60s through 80s, so there’s at least a 30-year age gap with Yo Jong. In their eyes, Yo Jong is just a novice,” Thae mentioned. The similar argument was made when Kim Jong Un took energy, although his youth did not block his ascent or his management over the outdated guard.
Either method, Kim Yo Jong stays essentially the most outstanding inheritor. Born in both 1988 or 1989, she was as soon as a chubby-cheeked woman who liked dancing and was nicknamed “Princess Yo Jong” by her father, the late dictator Kim Jong Il, in response to a biography of Kim Jong Un titled “The Great Successor” by Anna Fifield. She joined her brother at a college in Bern, Switzerland till about 2000 and later got here again to check in North Korea.
Her look by her brother’s aspect on the time of their father’s demise let the North Korean public know she was part of the Paektu bloodline. She quickly had a place within the Workers’ Party Propaganda and Agitation Department, in response to South Korea, the place she was liable for managing the picture of the chief in state media — a submit much like one held by her father when he was being groomed for succession.
She steadily rose via the ranks and have become a more in-depth confidante to her brother, accompanying him on inspection excursions of factories, farms and navy items. Then her high-profile appearances on the worldwide stage, which included mundane duties like serving to the chief extinguish a cigarette throughout a prepare cease in China, helped cement her standing.
“When Kim Yo Jong has risen as high as she already has, she is no longer considered a woman but a leader who inherited greater legitimacy to rule than others,” mentioned Chun Yungwoo, South Korea’s former envoy to worldwide nuclear talks with North Korea. “North Korea certainly is one of the most male chauvinistic societies in the world, but bloodline supplemented by status in the Korea Workers’ Party supercedes gender.”
Kim Yo Jong’s clout was on show final month when she personally responded to a letter from Trump providing help to combat Covid-19. In a press release carried by state-run Korean Central News Agency, she mentioned Trump’s “close relations” together with her brother weren’t sufficient to settle variations between the longstanding enemies — offering a glimpse into how she would deal with U.S.-North Korea ties if she does take energy.
“We try to hope for the day when the relations between the two countries would be as good as the ones between the two top leaders, but it has to be left to time and be watched whether it can actually happen,” she mentioned. “However, we will never lose or waste time for nothing, but will keep changing ourselves to be more powerful for that time just as how we made ourselves for the past two years.”
Kim Hong-gul, the youngest son of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and a lawmaker-elect, mentioned Kim Yo Jong seemed firmly in management when a delegation from Seoul visited Pyongyang as a part of a summit between the leaders of the international locations in 2018.
“I saw from a distance, at the airport upon our arrival and the banquet in Pyongyang, Yo Jong meticulously taking care of everything near her brother,” Kim Hong-gul mentioned. “It looked like she was the top supervisor on the site.”
On paper, there’s nothing stopping a girl from taking energy in North Korea, though its rubber-stamp parliament exhibits the overwhelming majority of its members are older males — one of many least gender numerous on the planet. The structure says “women are accorded an equal social status and rights with men.”
Still, some analysts do not assume Kim Yo Jong might maintain sway over the nation’s generals who command the nuclear weapons program, which for a lot of in Pyongyang represents the primary guarantor of safety towards a U.S. struggle for regime change. Ra Jong-yil, former deputy director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, mentioned it was extra probably the nation is run by a navy junta than Kim Yo Jong.
Playing the Game
“It is almost unthinkable to have a female leader in North Korea” partially as a consequence of its “unique patriarchy based on the Confucianism,” mentioned Lee Byong-chul, a former South Korea presidential adviser on nationwide safety points who’s now a professor on the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul. He questioned whether or not she might management the “old male generals” with out her brother’s affect, and noticed it extra probably that both her uncle Kim Pyong Il or nominal head of state Choe Ryong Hae takes over.
Still, North Korea’s “cult-driven system” makes it important to have a member of the family in cost, and Kim Jo Yong “has shown that she knows how to exercise authority,” in response to Sung-Yoon Lee~CHECK~, who teaches Korean Studies on the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts.
“The generals with the big guns have every interest in protecting their own power and they understand that power runs through the Kim family,” he mentioned. “She will be able to wield power through a mix of terror and promotions. She knows how to play the game.”