Rumors of Kim Jong-un’s critical health condition, which spread around the world in late April, ended with the leader's reappearance on May 1. Along with the speculative reports on Kim Jong-un's health, there was much discussion in the media regarding the identity of the leader's potential successor, with Kim Yo-jung, Kim Jong-un's younger sister, receiving particular attention.
To begin with, if Kim Jong-un were to suddenly die or become otherwise incapable of serving as leader, the top officials of the party and the military would step in to temporarily assume his duties. Ultimately, though, only Kim Yo-jung could be the one to inherit his supreme power. Before answering why this is the case, let's first look at the trajectory of Kim Yo-jung's career over the last 8 years, since her brother first came to power.
◆ Kim Yo-jung's upwards trajectory
According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification's "2020 Informational Packet on North Korean Public Figures" released on May 13, Kim Yo-jung was born in 1988. She was likely born in September, making her current age 31. (Though Kenji Fujimoto, who served as Kim Jong-il's personal chef, wrote in his book that she was born in 1987.) It is well known that her mother, Ko Yong-hee, was an Osaka-born Korean who returned to North Korea from Japan. Both Kim Yo-jung and her older brother, Kim Jong-un, are "second generation returnees."
・On November 19, 2012, scenes of Kim Yo-jung and Kim Kyung-hee (Kim Jong-il's younger sister) riding white horses were aired on Korean Central TV, giving the impression of Kim Yo-jung being part of a royal family.
・Kim Yo-jung's name appeared during the election of representatives for the Supreme People's Assembly on March 9, 2014. Her title was announced as "Chief Laborer of the Worker's Party Central Committee." In November of the same year, she was promoted, earning the title of Deputy Head of the Party Central Committee.
・On October 10, 2015, the 70th anniversary commemoration event for the founding of the Workers' Party was broadcast live, with Kim Yo-jung appearing prominently behind her older brother as he gave his speech.
・In May 2016, Kim Yo-jung was promoted to become a member of the Party Central Committee and, in 2017, she became a member of the Party Central Committee's Political Bureau, cementing her place among the top 30 most powerful members of the party's hierarchy.
・Kim Yo-jung visited South Korea as a member of a high-level delegation to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics and met with President Moon Jae-in. The visit marked the first time a member of the Kim clan had stepped foot in South Korean territory since the Korean War.
・Since 2018, Kim Jong-un has conducted top-level summit diplomacy, with Kim Yo-jung accompanying her brother to the DMZ, Singapore, and Beijing for summit meetings with President Moon Jae-in, President Trump, and President Xi Jinping.
・In February 2019, after denuclearization talks between Kim Jong-un and President Trump in Hanoi ended in a breakdown, Kim Yo-jung's name was omitted from the list of candidates for the Political Bureau. However, her name was restored to the list on April 11, 2020.
・In 2020, two statements of the North Korean regime were given by Kim Yo-jung. The first statement came after the South Korean presidential office expressed strong regret over the North’s missile test on March 3. Kim Yo-jung’s statement lambasted South Korea’s leadership, asking how they could “conduct military training but tell North Korea it cannot.” The statement went on to accuse the Blue House’s behavior as “no different from that of a 3 year-old child.” In addition, Kim Yo-jung released a statement on March 22, commending President Trump for sending a personal letter to Kim Jong-un.
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