Kim Jong-un’s absence from public ceremonies on the birth anniversary of his grandfather and founder of the country, Kim Il Sung, was unprecedented. That has led to days of speculation in the international community over his health and whether the nuclear-capable state was headed toward instability or had died. His sister, Kim Yo-jong recently received a “major promotion” in Pyongyang’s elite.
Arirang News host Jennifer Moon said: “North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s powerful younger sister used to be constantly by her brother’s side taking care of arrangements and protocol to make sure events went off without a hitch.
“But now it seems Kim Yo-jong has received a major promotion, one that makes her among the ten most powerful people in Pyongyang’s elite.”
Reporter Sooyoung Oh added: “North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister now appears to be the ninth most powerful figure in the regime.
“Seated just four seats to the left of her brother, Kim Yo-jong sat in the front row at a memorial in Pyongyang gymnasium marking the 25th death anniversary of their grandfather and the founder of North Korea, Kim Eun Seong.
“She was among 10 of the top officials including senior officials at the ruling Workers Party.”
Vice President of Research planning of the Sejong Institute, Cheong Seong-chang added: “She was sitting among the vice chairman of the party’s Central Committee as well as its politicians.
“It’s possible Kim Yo-jong’s status has been raised from a candidate of the Politburo to an actual member.”
South Korean officials say they have not detected any “unusual movements” in North Korea, and one foreign resident living in Pyongyang told Reuters that life appeared to be going on as usual.
The South Korean minister in charge of North Korean affairs said on Tuesday fear of catching the coronavirus could have kept Kim away from the April 15 state ceremonies.
Kim Heung-kwang, who defected to South Korea in 2004 and now runs an academic group that researches North Korea, said he spoke to two contacts in North Korea about the speculation.
One, a government official, said that he had been wondering about Kim Jong Un’s lack of public appearances and had noticed an increase in calls from security officials to stay focused on internal policies, Kim Heung-kwang told Reuters.
Another person was not aware of the reports and warned him “not to be fooled by such lies,” Kim said.
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Lim Hee-joo, a defector who runs a restaurant in Seoul, said almost no one in North Korea had any idea about Kim Jong Un’s health or whereabouts.
She said: “Not even the people in the central party.
“They are so scared that they don’t even think of looking into it or think about it, to begin with, as they fear they might get arrested.”
North Koreans are keenly aware they could face punishment for discussing the Kim family in any way except to shower them with glowing praise, said Sokeel Park, of Liberty in North Korea, a group that works with defectors.
Park said: “That doesn’t mean people don’t take that risk, some people do but it’s still a super-sensitive issue.”
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