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NK leader’s decision confirms Kim Yo-jong’s No. 2 status

By Choi He-suk

Published : Aug. 21, 2020 - 11:24

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Kim Yo-jong. Yonhap Kim Yo-jong. Yonhap

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has transferred some of his powers to others, entrusting oversight of different aspects of state affairs to his closest aides, according to Seoul’s National Intelligence Service.

Among them, his sister Kim Yo-jong is said to have been recognized as second in command within the North’s power structure.

Although the North has traditionally recognized no authority other than the supreme ruler, currently Kim Jong-un, Kim Yo-jong’s rising status has been apparent for some time.

Kim Yo-jong was sent to the South in 2018 as her brother’s special envoy, and the trip kicked off a series of events that for a time seemed to indicate an imminent end to tensions on the peninsula. Three inter-Korean summits followed, as well as two US-North Korea summits.

The younger Kim has played an increasingly visible role in the North in recent months. It was Kim Yo-jong who led the North’s public condemnation of the South, raising inter-Korean tensions in moves that culminated in the demolition of the liaison office in Kaesong. In the lead up to its destruction she hinted at things to come, stating that she was acting with the authority given to her by her brother.

It was also Kim Yo-jong who publicly announced that the North considers another summit with the US unnecessary as things currently stand, and that the North sees no point in engaging the South.

According to South Korean experts, the younger Kim’s rise has a number of implications.

Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, says Kim Yo-jong will now take some responsibility off her brother, thereby giving the North’s leadership the means to shift blame from its “fault-free” leader if matters do not go as planned.

Others say that by giving her the reins, Kim Jong-un is reinforcing his sister’s high status within the regime.

According to Shin Beom-chul, director of the Center for Diplomacy and Security at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, the North may be veering away from its traditional power structure. Shin says Kim Yo-jong’s rising status is “an exceptional move.”

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)