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Kim’s sister

Kim’s sister

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Since her father’s death in 2011, Kim Yo Jong has risen through the ranks of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party. How influential is she in the secretive state?

[Clip of Kim Yo Jong speaking]

That’s Kim Yo Jong speaking at the “National Emergency Prevention General Meeting” in Pyongyang last month. 

She’s standing behind a grand podium, set against a sea of red flowers.

Around a dozen officials are diligently sitting behind her… ferociously clapping as she stands up to speak.

Often pictured next to the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it’s assumed that Kim Yo Jong is his younger sister… although that’s never officially been confirmed.

Like her brother, in the late 1990s Kim Yo Jong was educated at a public school in Switzerland.

But it wasn’t until 2011 that Kim Yo Jong made her first public appearance at the funeral service for her father, Kim Jong Il.

[Audio from Kim Jong Il’s state funeral]

Since then, Kim Yo Jong has risen through the ranks of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party.

“She was the first member of the Kim family to visit South Korea, attended meetings with South Korean president… met China’s leader Xi Jin Ping, and met US president Donald Trump…”

DW News

In practice, she’s her brother’s chief of staff, and she’s also the Assistant Director at the Propaganda and Agitation Department.

And in February 2018, Kim Yo Jong came to international attention when she was pictured sitting behind the then US vice president Mike Pence at the winter olympics in neighbouring South Korea… 

“With another 280 North Koreans crossing the border, soon all eyes will be on one member of the delegation. Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, will be the first member of the Kim ruling family to set foot in the country.”

CNBC

Hours earlier, Mike Pence had called North Korea the most “tyrannical regime on the planet”.

But to North Korea, the picture was a diplomatic win. 

So, how influential is she in the secretive state?

***

In her speech at the National Emergency Prevention General Meeting, Kim Yo Jong had strong words for South Korea’s president…

“If the enemy persists in such dangerous deeds as carrying the virus into our Republic, we will respond by eradicating not only the virus, but also the South Korean authorities.”

Kim Yo Jong

And it’s not the first time Kim Yo Jong blamed South Korea for a Covid-19 outbreak in the North, threatening retaliation if it happened again. 

She even admitted that her brother, Kim Jong Un, had recently caught the virus…

“Our leader was suffering from high fever during the days of this quarantine war, but he could not lie down for a moment as he was thinking about the people he was responsible for…”

Kim Yo Jong

Kim Yo Jong was responding to an offer from Yoon Suk-yeol, South Korea’s presideent.

The deal was this… if North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons programme, South Korea would offer economic aid.  

But Kim Yo Jong responded by calling the plan “absurd”, describing Yoon Suk-yeol as “really foolish” and that it would be better for him to “shut his mouth” rather than talking nonsense.

***

Kim Yo Jong’s speech comes at a time when North Korea is planning its seventh nuclear test…

“South Korea and US intelligence officials say they are preparing for all contingencies after they detected North Korean efforts to prepare its north eastern testing ground for another nuclear test.”

Sky News Australia

The country’s last test was in 2017 which was followed by promising talks between Kim Jong Un and former US president Donald Trump in 2019.

Held in Hanoi in Vietnam, Donald Trump sought a guarantee from North Korea that it would stop testing missiles and nuclear weapons. In return, North Korea demanded all economic sanctions were lifted. Something Donald Trump wasn’t willing to do.

North Korea is run by a small, closed group and Kim Yo Jong is the only one of Kim Jong Un’s siblings who’s considered a close and powerful ally. 

And at times when Kim Jong Un has disappeared from public view, prompting questions about his health, it’s his younger sister who steps into his shoes, and who people think may succeed him.   

North Korea’s regime is a family business and Kim Yo Jong has a stake in its survival. 

This episode was written and mixed by Imy Harper.