Kim Yo-jong has not been seen for more than a month and experts believe she may have gone into hiding amid fears of a power struggling with her despot brother within the regime. The leader is believed to have transferred some of his power to his younger sister as rumours surrounding his health continue to swirl. But she has not been seen in public since July 27, when she stood beside her brother during a military ceremony to mark the anniversary of the end of the Korean War.
And experts now believe she may be staying out of the limelight to avoid being seen to be taking too much power from her brother.
Their uncle, Jang Song-thaek, was previously one of the most powerful figures in North Korea and became de facto leader as their father’s health declined prior to his death in 2011.
But in December 2013, Jang was abruptly accused of being a “counter-revolutionary”, stripped of his posts, and executed.
It comes after speculation Kim Yo-jong, 32, would take over from her brother earlier this year amid health concerns and following reports the despot was dead.
Kim Yo-jong is understood to be already exercising significant influence within the North Korean government.
South Korea politician Ha Tae-kyung said Kim Yo-jong was helping to run the regime with mandated authority from her brother.
He said there had been a “delegation of power” and Kim Jong-un’s authority as leader of the secretive state has been “transferred little by little” to his sister.
He told the Korean Herald: “In regards to Kim Jong-un’s circumstances, ‘delegation of power’ was mentioned.
“Kim Jong-un still exerts absolute power, but in comparison to the past, some of the authority has been transferred little by little.
“Kim Yo-jong is a de facto second-in-command.”
Speaking after a closed-door parliamentary briefing with the National Intelligence Service in South Korea, he said “high stress levels” stemming from Kim’s role in ruling the hermit state were one of the reasons behind the power shift.
He said more authority on economic and military policy has also been delegated to several other senior officials, although at a lower level, possibly to reduce strain on Kim Jong-un as well as help him avoid blame for any failures.
Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang said Kim Yo-jong took over state duties on his behalf, particularly in October 2014, when Kim Jong-un had is understood to have had medical treatment.
She was removed from the politburo in April last year, but was reinstated again earlier this year.
Kim Yo-jong won fame ahead of her brother’s 2019 summit with US President Donald Trump in Vietnam when her efforts to ensure everything went well included holding an ashtray for the North Korean leader at a train station on his journey.
Her prominence in the campaign against South Korea this year highlighted a substantive policy role that goes beyond being merely Kim Jong-un’s assistant.
He said: “Clearly there has been a contingency plan rolled out since early March to bolster Kim Yo-jong’s credentials and have her, if and when necessary, to seize the reins of power should Kim Jong-un become incapacitated.”
Retried US colonel David Maxwell said Kim Yo-jong remained an unknown quantity but could prove to be more brutal than her brother should she take power.
He said: “My speculation — given the reputation and history of the family — is that she would rule with an iron fist.”