As a growing number of reports circulate about the alleged failing health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the rumour mill has been in overdrive with speculation as to who is next in line to lead in the event of his death.
Although little is known about the highly secretive North Korean dynasty, what is clear, is that there is no obvious male heir to follow Kim Jong Un.
Not much is known about his children, but it is believed he has one son, who is still a toddler and too young to rule. He has an older brother, who was reportedly passed over for being “effeminate” and is an unlikely candidate for the role.
Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s younger and only sister, is an obvious choice. She is young, ambitious, educated and politically minded. In the last couple of years, she has been a highly visible presence around Kim Jong Un, and is thought to be trusted.
Whether Kim Yo Jong’s can rise to the leadership in a Confucian, male-dominated regime is unknown. She would need the approval of North Korean elites, and it’s reported as unlikely they would accept a woman as supreme leader. But without her, the leadership would pass outside the Kim family for the first time.
Very little is known about Kim Yo Jong, but according to The Washington Post, she was born in Pyongyang on September 26, 1989. This information was released by the U.S Treasury Department after she was blacklisted for human rights abuses in 2016.
Like her older brothers, she attended school in Bern, Switzerland for several years. While there, she used an alias and hid her identity. She made her first public appearance in North Korea when she appeared at Kim Jong Il’s funeral in 2011.
Officially, Kim Yo Jong holds the position of deputy director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea. Her duties include ensuring her brother, Kim Jong Un is presented always as a strong leader.
Unofficially, she acts as Kim Jong Un’s chief of staff. Last year, she was seen handling paperwork for her brother during a parade in Pyongyang. She has also appeared on stage with him at different events.
She played a key role in the US-North Korea summit and the inter-Korean summit.
Kim Yo Jong’s role in the North Korean regime is not just ceremonial. She’s actually working, protecting the image of her brother Kim Jong Un and making sure that everything runs smoothly. pic.twitter.com/hWsQnPIZzr— Anna Fifield (@annafifield) February 8, 2018
Kim Yo Jong was shown horse-riding with her aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, in 2012. Just as Kim Kyong Hui supported Kim Jong Il, Kim Yo Jong is now supporting her brother. pic.twitter.com/p9XTl1m6lJ— Anna Fifield (@annafifield) February 8, 2018
Expert opinions differ on whether Kim Yo Jong could take on the leadership.
Lim Jae-cheon, a Kim family expert at Korea University in Seoul, told The Washington Post: “She can’t be leader,” he said. “She’s a female.”
“If something happens, Kim Yo Jong is the logical successor,’’ Sue Mi Terry, a former North Korea analyst for the C.I.A., told The New Yorker. “It is an open question whether North Korean elites would accept a woman, but they would have a more difficult time accepting somebody outside the Kim family.’’
As Anna Fifield, Beijing bureau chief for The Washington Post wrote, “I can’t see how Kim Yo Jong could become the leader. But I also can’t see how she could not become the leader. There’s no one else. “