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With status elevated, sister speaks for Kim Jong-un

Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, releases her second official statement Sunday, praising “exceptional rapport” between his brother and US President Donald Trump who had sent Kim a letter wishing to expand bilateral cooperation to combat the coronavirus pandemic. (Yonhap)
Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, releases her second official statement Sunday, praising “exceptional rapport” between his brother and US President Donald Trump who had sent Kim a letter wishing to expand bilateral cooperation to combat the coronavirus pandemic. (Yonhap)

Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, seems to have risen above her leadership title as deputy chief of Pyongyang’s propaganda affairs to Kim Jong-un’s personal messenger, aggressively weighing in on US relations and the inter-Korean agenda.

In her second known official statement, released Sunday, Kim disclosed that US President Donald Trump had sent Kim Jong-un a letter, saying Washington was ready to expand cooperation with Pyongyang in efforts against the coronavirus pandemic.

“The letter signals exceptional rapport between the two heads of state,” she commented, adding it remained to be seen whether Washington-Pyongyang relations would live up to the personal ties between Trump and Kim.

The statement came two weeks after her comments made public in early March, when she leveled diatribes and insults against South Korea for expressing “grave concerns” over North Korea’s weapons test a day before.

At that time, she called Seoul’s presidential office “mentally challenged” and likened it to a “frightened dog,” to which Cheong Wa Dae remained silent. Seoul’s Unification Ministry reiterated “mutual respect” in inter-Korean relations.

Observers speculate that Kim Yo-jong could not have pressed ahead with such scathing criticism without the approval of her brother Kim Jong-un.

Kim Yo-jong’s elevated status, however, did not come unforeseen. She had assisted Kim Jong-un in June last year when he met with South Korean President Moon and US President Trump at Panmunjom on the inter-Korean border. She was also present when Kim Jong-un met with Chinese President Xi Jinping shortly after.

She has sat next to her brother at major North Korean weapons tests, including the latest round Saturday, when Pyongyang test-fired short-range ballistic missiles akin to Washington’s surface-to-surface missile ATACMS.

The latest report from the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank of Seoul’s National Intelligence Service, said Kim Yo-jong will soon take on further responsibility, such as that of a key party member.

Local experts said Kim Jong-un was conveying his unhappiness with UN sanctions imposed on his regime, when he let his sister release public statements in her name rather than his, as had previously been typical.

“Kim Jong-un is demanding Washington and Seoul bring to the table what he’d like to see -- sanctions relief or something commensurate that incentivizes Pyongyang to engage in talks,” Shin Jong-woo, a senior researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, told The Korea Herald.

Unless that follows, Kim Yo-jong will likely make another appearance, Shin said.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)

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