Kim Yo Jong, 35, has increasingly become the face of North Korea’s secretive and combative regime. Dictator Kim Jong Un’s younger sister led the state delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea. She met then-President Donald Trump in 2018. She made major announcements on the world stage, including last week’s launch of a spy satellite, prompting the United Nations Security Council to hold a emergency meeting.
Her title is officially “Deputy Director of the Publicity and Information Department”, but there has long been speculation that she is being set up for a bigger role.
When Kim Jong Un’s health rumors began in 2020, she was cited as a likely successor.
Whoever rules North Korea wields enormous power given the authoritarian kingdom’s nuclear weapons and constant threats to use them against the United States and its allies. But what do we know about Kim Yo Jong?
Yahoo News spoke with two experts: Sung-Yoon Lee, author of “The Sister: North Korea’s Kim Yo Jong, the Most Dangerous Woman in the World,” and Edward Howell, senior lecturer in politics and international relations at the University of Oxford, on the princess and her rise through the ranks of North Korean politics.
Who is Kim Yo Jong?
Howell: She is the younger sister of Kim Jong Un and the youngest child of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. What we do know is that she was born and raised in North Korea, but also studied abroad in Switzerland, with her brothers, under an alias.
What do we know about his political career?
Howell: What’s interesting about Yo Jong is that she rose through the ranks as a member of the junior elite of the Workers’ Party of Korea. She worked for the National Defense Commission – the most important institution for national defense. She was then appointed to the Department of Publicity and Information in 2014 – one of the main departments of the party and the one that sets the stage for what will happen to the kingdom in the future. Over time, she is promoted in different party departments, and in 2021 she was promoted to the State Affairs Commission, which is the highest organ of state power over North Korea.
Why did Kim Jong Un choose her?
Howell: I think it’s useful [to the party] because it reinforces North Korea’s message that South Korea and the United States are fundamentally hostile actors, the idea that the outside world will never be fundamentally nice to North Korea, and that Korea of the North must act accordingly. She was seen as a sort of unifier between factions within the military and the party.
How important is it that a woman is in the high ranks of the North Korean regime?
Lee: The rise of a “nuclear despot” is an entirely new phenomenon. North Korea is such a male-dominated and chauvinistic country that it claims to be a communist system that guarantees gender equality. This sudden rise of a female leader, sort of co-head of the family, is in itself an interesting phenomenon. In the past, we have seen the royal family, for example, the younger sister of other children play a big role, but not as big or visible as Yo Jong played in the last five or six years.
What do senior officials think of her?
Lee: Senior politicians look away whenever she makes an appearance. They don’t want to be noticed by her because she is so strange as a powerful young person and sister to the Supreme Leader. There were reports that she issued random execution orders to officials that pissed her off. It is difficult to corroborate these reports, but they come from many different regions inside the country.
With all her recent public appearances, is she on her way to becoming Kim Jong Un’s successor?
Lee: Many North Korean defectors think there could never be a female leader and they may be right. But I humbly disagree, as I would argue that the supposedly sacred hereditary lineage of the North Korean dynasty trumps chauvinistic cultural considerations.