By James Moules
LAST month, South Korea’s spy agency was said to have reported that Kim Yo-jong had been given increased powers in North Korea’s administration by her older brother Kim Jong-un.
The reports came at a time when Ms Kim is becoming a far more prominent and visible member of the North Korean regime.
But experts have told Redaction Politics that some of the rumours surrounding her should be approached with some scepticism.
Jim Hoare of SOAS and Chatham House (and Britain’s first diplomatic representative to North Korea) spoke to Redaction Politics about the rising prominence of Kim Yo-Jong.
When asked how different North Korean foreign policy might look under the leadership of Kim Yo-jong, he said: “I have no idea. And neither does anybody else.
“We know so little about any aspects of her that it is a mistake to think we can know what she is thinking on a subject. We barely knew she or her brother existed before 2011, never mind what she thinks.”
Dr Gabor Sebo, postdoctoral researcher and visiting scholar at the Universtiy of Edinburgh, told Redaction Politics: “This year has been a year of the rise of Kim Yo-jong.
“There can be witnessed a very logical and reasonable promotion – both for outside of the country and for the North Korean citizens – of Kim Jong-un’s younger sister systematically carried out by the leadership.
“Her name has been much more widely known this year than ever – even though she has been in the background at the inter-Korean and DPRK-US summits in recent years.
“This year she could come up to the stage from the background and her image shows a strong female leader character even though that her young age does not show enough political and diplomatic experience yet.”
He added that the temperament of Kim Yo-jong herself will matter little when it comes to setting North Korea’s agenda on foreign policy.
He said: “Changing moods, views, approaches, methods and communication are business as usual in North Korea. At the inter-Korean and DPRK-US summits she, for instance, showed her smiling and positive face to the audience.
“I do not think that it is her personality that matters a lot when talking about the future of the inter-Korean relations and the US-DPRK relations but much more the actual political environment and diplomatic room for manoeuvre.”
The reports from the South Korean intelligence agency came at a time of rumours regarding Kim Jong-un’s health – and the prospect that it may be in decline.
However, the experts once again cautioned against taking these rumours too seriously without solid evidence.
Dr Sojin Lim, Co-Director of the International Institute of Korean Studies, University of Central Lancashire, told Redaction Politics that there is little point in speculating about Kim’s health.
She said: “We cannot rely on ‘rumours’ as it is based on the speculation only. It is not productive discussing Kim Jong-un’s health condition unless any actual fact is reported.”
Dr Hoare also said: “He is pretty heavy, he drinks and he smokes so I would not imagine his life insurance premiums would be low. He also operates, I should imagine, with a high degree of stress.
“But he is only in his 30s and will have the best medical attention available in the country. Rumours of his death are probably exaggerated.”
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