Spotlight: Kim Yo Jong, sister, closest confidante likely to succeed Kim Jong-un in North Korea

Kim Jong-un
Kim Yo Jong's proximity (right) to her brother sparked outside speculation in 2018 that she may be the No 2 leader in North Korea. Photo: Al-Jazeera

There is growing global concern over the whereabouts of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after news broke out of his possible death, days after undergoing heart surgery.

But as questions surrounding Kim’s possible death reach a fever pitch, Kim Yo Jong, the disappearing dictator’s sister and closest confidante, takes the spotlight and, maybe, the top job


Forbes said while Kim Yo Jong rocketed to international attention during the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Yo Jong (like many in her family) is a somewhat mysterious figure, with basic details like her exact age (somewhere in her early thirties), unconfirmed by the North Korean regime.

ALSO READ: Uncertainty over Kim Jong-un’s health; he’s in ‘vegetative state’, Japanese media say, as China dispatches medical experts to North Korea

A favorite of her late father Kim Jong Il, she attended school in Switzerland, The Washington Post reports, where she took ballet lessons before returning to North Korea in the early 2000s.

Nicknamed the “Ivanka Trump of North Korea,” Kim Yo Jong said last month that President Trump and her brother had “special and firm personal relations,” despite the ongoing conflict around the latter’s nuclear weapons, an arsenal the rising leader seems eager to protect.

Responsible for pushing North Korean propaganda and protecting her brother’s reputation, she recently called South Korea a “frightened dog barking” for objecting to a live-fire military demonstration by the state, the Guardian notes.

In a sign of her growing power, Yo Jong was named an alternate member of the North Korean politburo earlier this month.


“She is smart, calculating, and who knows how much power she has been able to build working in the shadows?” North Korean expert Bruce Bennett told the Daily Beast.


“Among the North’s power elite, Kim Yo Jong has the highest chance to inherit power, and I think that possibility is more than 90%,” an analyst told the Associated Press. However, she’s not the only one who may be jockeying for the promotion, and the country’s patriarchal structure may undercut her chances. Some speculate that a collective leadership spearheaded by ceremonial head of state Choe Ryong Hae may be implemented, ending the Kim family’s dynastic rule. Kim Yo Jong may serve only as a temporary figurehead in the interim. And of course, any replacement hinges on Kim Jong Un’s actual death or incapacitation, which is still unknown.


Kim’s last official public appearance was April 11, where according to North Korean state media reports, he held a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party committee of policymakers. While it’s not unusual for him to disappear from the public eye for even weeks at a time, speculation has mounted that the leader, who has a history of health problems, is either dead or gravely ill.


North Korea’s Disappearing Leader: Speculation Grows Around Kim Jong Un’s Health (Forbes)

Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s Kid Sister, is ‘Feared,’ ‘Respected’ Inside North Korea (Daily Beast)

Who is Kim Yo Jong? Here’s what we know about the North Korean ‘princess.’ (Washington Post)

Kim Yo-jong: the sister of Kim Jong-un, fast ‘becoming his alter ego’ (The Guardian)