Everyone wants to know — where is Kim Jong Un? It’s been over a month since North Korea’s erratic leader has been seen in public, and rumors are mounting up. Most of them revolve around Kim’s health — that he has gout, or diabetes, or maybe just problems with his ankles.
But the second question should be, if Kim Jong Un is incapacitated in some manner, who is running North Korea?
The North Korea Intellectuals’ Solidarity, a think-tank operated by a group of North Korean defectors, is saying that regardless of whatever illness Kim Jong Un may be recuperating from, his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, is running the country while he does so. The group will not say where they have gathered this information, but it does appear that Kim Yo Jong is ascending.
Michael Madden, who runs the blog called North Korea Leadership Watch, says that the media in North Korea is claiming that Kim Yo Jong has been made deputy director of the Workers’ Party, which is an incredibly powerful position in that country.
Victor Cha, who is an analyst for the Center of Strategic and International Studies, says that younger sister Kim Yo Jong began to appear publicly just earlier this year. He believes her appearances were strategic, saying, “Clearly it’s an effort to slow-track her into becoming somebody who is important within the system. I can see how it’s possible that she’s in some sort of temporary position. It’s very difficult for the North Korean system to run without one of the Kim family at least titularly in charge. So, if Kim Jong Un is indisposed, she’s really the only available body that’s left, in terms of a direct Kim family line.”
So who is Kim Yo Jong?
According to Madden, she was born in 1987 or 1988, putting her barely in her mid-twenties. Kim Yo Jong is apparently the youngest of seven siblings that their father, Kim Jong Il, had with four different women. Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong have the same mother, as well.
She attended private school with her brother Kim Jong Un, both under assumed names. Madden says Kim Yo Jong was always close to her father and, after finishing her schooling in Switzerland, she was appointed to several positions of responsibility within the government. Madden said she would act in the capacity of an advance-team leader, meaning she would inspect sites before official visits from her father as well as having some administrative duties.
Madden claims that under brother Kim Jong Un’s rule, she has taken on even more responsibility, and now deals with actual policy as well as receiving the intelligence briefings. Madden likens her to a White House chief-of-staff.
Because she is so young, and because so little is actually known about her, many are concerned with the idea of Kim Yo Jong in the top North Korean leadership role, even if it is only temporary. Cha says, “It means there is something seriously wrong with Kim Jong Un and there is some sort of void that they’re desperately trying to fill.”
Certainly all eyes are focused on October 10th, which is the 69th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party. Kim Jong Un is certainly expected to be in attendance. If he is absent from Friday’s ceremonies, the mystery surrounding his disappearance from the public eye will deepen and concern will only grow.
[Image via modernman.com]