North Korea panic: Kim Yo-jong poised to increase repression as Kim Jong-un ‘in coma’

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Earlier this week, Kim Jong-un, the country’s Supreme Leader, transferred a range of important powers on to his sister, Kim Yo-jong. Some other responsibilities were bestowed upon his aides. Yo-jong will now head Pyongyang’s policy regarding the US and South Korea.

This now places her, many have argued, in one of the country’s most privileged and powerful positions as the North’s future depends on negotiations with Washington and Seoul.

The reports first emerged via South’s National Intelligence Service spy agency.

It said the revelation came during a closed-door briefing on Thursday to South Korea’s National Assembly, which lawmakers present later discussed with journalists.

The agency was quoted as saying: “Kim Jong-un is still maintaining his absolute authority, but some of it has been handed over little by little.”

Shortly before Yo-jong was passed the powers, in June, professor Sung-Yoon Lee, a scholar of Korean and East Asian studies and authority on North Korea, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times warning over her future rise.

He wrote: Kim Yo-jong, reportedly in her early 30s, has much to prove — and she might well do some of that proving, at least in the short or medium term, by ratcheting up two staple features of the Kim regime’s strategy of self-preservation: calculated external threats and extreme internal repression.

“In 2012, his very first year in power, Kim Jong-un, then not yet 30, oversaw two long-range missile tests. There is no reason to think that Kim Yo-jong would be any less aggressive or tyrannical than her brother — or their father and grandfather — and she may even be more so.

“The nature of the regime she represents, and will perhaps one day inherit, almost demands it.

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“That a woman would now be the surrogate supreme leader of North Korea — a male-dominated culture, politically and otherwise — is a first, but it isn’t heresy.

“Ensuring that the Kim family’s authority remains unchallenged supersedes any social conventions.”

On his last point, many have noted that Yo-jong’s acquiring power may be intended to further establish the Kim family’s control of North Korea.

Others have claimed it could signal red flags over Kim’s health.


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On Friday, The Korea Herald reported that a former aide to the late President Kim Dae-jung that the Supreme Leader is in a coma “and his decision to delegate some of his power to his aides is proof”.

Chang Song-min, who served Kim Dae-jung as a political affairs secretary and as head of the state affairs monitoring office, insisted that Kim Jong-un is comatose but Yo-jong is not his successor despite the power restructuring.

This power structure is overly important to the Kim family, Sean King, senior vice-president of Park Strategies in New York and an affiliated scholar at University of Notre Dame’s Liu Institute, told, because the country is extremely isolated.

He explained: “North Korea doesn’t have any allies.

“Technically, China is someone that they’re supposed to have to rely on, but in reality they actually hate one another.

“It’s not a communist country, it’s a nationalist xenophobic state that has built itself based on one ‘true’ Korea, and that South Korea doesn’t make its own decisions and is occupied by foreign forces, namely, the US.

“They inherit a Korea nationalist narrative and they remember that Korea was a tributary state for China for hundreds of years and they resent that – but they need each other.

“North Korea’s invasion of South Korea cost China Taiwan, and North Korea doesn’t like China telling it what to do.

“Chinese troops left North Korea by 1958 because Kim Il-sung didn’t want any arms on his soil.

“China wants North Korea to stay around because they know a united Korea means the US on their border – China isn’t really an ally but more like the North’s get out of jail card.”

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