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North Korea continues to dispel speculation about the health of its current leader Kim Jong-un since his multiple disappearances from the public eye. Last month, it was believed the dictator had died during a “botched” attempt at heart surgery by a surgeon with “shaking hands”. But Kim Jong-un allegedly reemerged on May 1, for a ribbon cutting ceremony to open a new fertiliser factory – the first time he had been seen in three weeks. The leader has vanished once again, sparking further suspicion that the hermit kingdom’s ruler is either dead, “braindead” or slowly dying in hospital. These beliefs have only heightened by his unprecedented absence from the birthday celebrations of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung, his grandfather – known as ‘Day of the Sun’. Many have since turned their eye to the leader’s sister Kim Yo-jong, who could be a potential successor, after she issued a series of statements on her brother’s behalf. The move, which is extremely unusual for the highly secretive state, could indicate that she will be the next leader of North Korea. Despite this, it is not believed that she has ever made a verbal public announcement – the reason behind this could be steeped in tradition and the complicated games played by dictators of the past.
Despite the potential development, very little is known about Kim Yo-jong – a recurrent theme throughout the reign of North Korea’s first family.
The only information gathered about the Kims and those within the state, originates from satellite imagery, statements of defectors and heavily censored press releases disseminated by the nation.
Kim Yo-jong is believed to be the youngest daughter of the nation’s now-deceased leader Kim Jong-il, the third child of his second wife.
Even her age is under question, with the US Treasury listing her birth year as 1989 and South Korea claiming it’s 1987 – a detail the secretive state has not clarified.
That year was obtained by President Donald Trump’s departments after she was blacklisted in 2017 for “severe human rights abuses”, alongside others within the nation.
Since Kim Yo-jong’s first public appearance in 2011, when she was seen standing near to her brother, many have speculated about her life.
It is believed that she was educated in Switzerland, the same as Kim Jong-un, where she may have studied computer science.
She has since been observed with the leader multiple times and noted to have been honoured with identical jewellery and possessions – which could signify her equal standing within the regime.
Kim Yo-jong has headed the Propaganda and Agitation Department since 2014, a pivotally important role in the nation.
The governmental branch produces the material to ensure the population continues to adore their leader and shapes the narrative about their legendary myths behind them.
Several outlandish claims about North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung included that he could “command heavens and earth”, had “turned pine cones into bullets” and “grains of sand into rice”.
Under that leader’s reign, the same role in propaganda was held by Kim Yo-Jong’s father Kim Jong-il, who used the position to usurp his two older siblings to inherit the throne.
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Chris Mikul, author of 2019 book ‘My Favourite Dictators’, explained that while “no-one” considered Kim Jong-il in the running he cunningly bypassed them by preserving his father’s legacy.
He wrote: “He would prove himself to be the most loyal follower of his father in the country, and the foremost interpreter of his thought.”
Kim Yo-jong appears to have won favour through this position and is now considered to be a number two in the dictatorship – often dubbed the “Ivanka Trump” of North Korea.
This thought was popularised when she represented the nation at the 2018 Winter Olympics and praised Donald Trump on behalf of the state.
Last month, she also condemned South Korea as a “frightened dog barking” after they were accused of carrying out military drills.
In a written statement she savagely dismissed the concerns: “Such incoherent assertion and actions…only magnify our distrust, hatred and scorn for the South side as a whole.”
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Despite her increasing power and influence alongside Kim Jong-un, with some claiming she is “the brains behind his brawn”, she is yet to speak on a public stage.
A similar occurrence happened with Kim Jong-il, who did not address the nation until two years before his father Kim Il-sung’s death in 1994.
According to Mr Mikul he uttered “a single sentence”, which was “Glory to the People’s Heroic Military” and at the time sparked rumours that he had a speech impediment.
He was described as “every bit as ruthless as his father” but “almost a recluse” by comparison to his father who savoured being “a showman”.
Another suggestion why Kim Yo-jong is yet to speak publicly could be attributed to the complicated dynamics and power struggles within the nation.
While Kim Jong-il was vying for the throne by trying to outperform his brothers, who were the likelier successors, he had a man executed for suggesting he become the future leader.
Mr Mikul claims this was to prove his loyalty to Kim Il-sung and accused the man of dishonouring the then-leader with even that suggestion – a similar standoffish nature could be being employed by Kim Yo-jong.
Despite this, cryptic clues from the hermit state could indicate that Kim Yo-jong will be the nation’s future leader – in the event of anything happening to her brother.
This is believed because every image disseminated by the nation is believed to have been carefully constructed with precise propaganda messages in mind.
But until she is announced – if predictions are accurate – it is unlikely that her voice will be projected to the nation.
Numerous sources have suggested that Kim Jong-un has the “utmost trust and confidence in his sister” and has an “overall lack of trust among the party” surrounding him.
Kim Yo-jong being given the go-ahead to reply to messages sent by Donald Trump that to the North Korean leader could also indicate her respect within the regime.
The US President allegedly wrote to Kim Jong-un to offer assistance with the coronavirus outbreak – despite the nation denouncing rumours that they had any cases at all.
One of the main issues that could stand in Kim Yo-jong’s way is the fact that she is a woman – if she is to succeed her brother, she would become the first female to rule the state since its creation in 1948.
Commentators allege that this could be a problem because North Korea has a dated view on women – reports claim that all leaders have had multiple mistresses, “sex slaves” as part of the Joy Brigade and have not promoted equal rights.
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