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North Korea’s Supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, has reportedly passed a range of considerable powers onto his sister, Kim Yo-jong. While some other responsibilities have been passed down to his aides, Yo-jong will now head Pyongyang’s policy towards the US and South Korea. The reports came from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service spy agency.
It said that Kim still maintains “absolute authority” but has handed various policy areas to others to reduce his stress levels.
He is now “steering overall state affairs” the agency added.
It was quick to dispel any myths over the leader’s health.
The National Intelligence Service has, in the past, got things wrong.
The claims were reportedly made during a closed-door briefing on Thursday to South Korea’s National Assembly.
Lawmakers then discussed the assessment with journalists.
The agency was quoted as saying: “Kim Jong-un is still maintaining his absolute authority, but some of it has been handed over little by little.”
Not a lot is known about Yo-jong personally, although reports surrounding her paint an “alter-ego” like image of her brother.
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In 2017, US officials placed her on a blacklist for “severe human rights abuses” and censorship.
Commenting on the move at the time, acting OFAC Director John Smith said in the statement: “The North Korean regime not only engages in severe human rights abuses, but it also implements rigid censorship policies and conceals its inhumane and oppressive behavior.”
It was a nod to the North’s various labour camps and the operation to erase any traces of it out of existence.
In recent years, Yo-jong has, internationally, been a visible presence throughout North Korea’s high-stakes diplomatic process with Washington and Seoul which perhaps explains her new responsibilities.
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Meanwhile, at home, she has played the role of propagandist-in-chief, burnishing Kim’s reputation as head of the dynasty that has ruled North Korea for three generations.
Leonid Petrov, a North Korea specialist and senior lecturer at the International College of Management in Sydney told the Guardian earlier this year how she has “direct access” to Kim.
He said: “She has a strong influence on Kim Jong-un.
“She is not associated with his purges or military brinkmanship, but knows all about them.
“She is a trusted political figure who helps Kim maintain a positive public image when he is dealing with foreigners or South Koreans.”
She is widely regarded as having given the green light to the destruction of a joint liaison office with the South in June after hundreds of thousands of anti-Kim leaflets were sent into the country by South Korean activists.
On this event, many noted the significance of her fierce message to those involved, that they were “human scum” and her warning of military action against the South.
Yo-jong is currently assumed as the next natural leader should Kim’s children not be of the appropriate age when the time comes.
The true extent of her power shone through in 2017 when she was elevated to an alternate member of the politburo.
This seemed to indicate a shift in seniority although her main role remained in propaganda.
She is said to have managed all his public appearances as well as acting as a political adviser.
When the Hanoi summit in 2019 failed to result in an agreement with the US, it’s thought she might have been demoted from the politburo – something that would have been perceived as a stinging attack on her diplomatic prowess.
However, in 2020, she was reinstated to that body and her profile has sky-rocketed ever since.
A top job in the leadership is thought to have been carved out for her as early as 2008 during succession planning when Kim Jong-il’s health deteriorated.
And her role as possible successor to her brother has surfaced every time there was uncertainty about Kim Jong-un.
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