Who would take over North Korea if Kim Jong-un died?

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As unconfirmed reports swirl around Jong-un’s health, so too do rumours his sister is next in line for the top job.

Kim Yo Jong has only garnered global attention in the last few years, but she’s long been a pivotal member of the Korean regimen, credited with pushing its propaganda model and carefully shaping her brother’s image.

But despite her power and influence within the hermit nation, some experts doubt she’d be next in line for the top job.


Kim Yo Jong, 31, skyrocketed to international attention after attending the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang.

She has been credited with softening the North Korean dictator’s image, and was branded the “Ivanka Trump of North ” by multiple global media outlets. The young woman is believed to be the mastermind behind Mr Kim’s carefully constructed public image, and has been credited with arranging his succession as supreme leader after Kim Jong-il suffered two strokes in 2008.

But Ms Kim is just as fierce when it comes to pushing North Korean propaganda. Just last month, she made her first public statement by calling South Korea a “frightened dog barking” for objecting to a live-fire military demonstration by the hermit nation.

In 2014, Ms Kim was identified as the deputy director of the ruling Workers Party’s department of propaganda and agitation.

Her job here is basically to pump out North Korean propaganda that boosts her brother’s reputation and discredits enemies – a crucial part of the regimen.

In 2017, she was made an alternate member of the Politburo, the party’s most senior ruling committee.

This gave her even greater power over state security, and she was only the second woman to hold that position, after her aunt.

That same year, the US placed her and other North Korean officials on a blacklist for “severe human rights abuses”.

Ms Kim has filled in for her brother before when he was sick, and has played a high-level supporting role to him.

She has also publicly praised US President Donald Trump for sending Kim Jong-un a letter in which he said he hoped to maintain good bilateral relations and offered help in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.


Ms Kim is already referred to as “Number Two” in the reclusive nation, according to Committee for Human Rights in North Korea analyst Robert Collins.

“Party cadre are reported to both fear and respect her,” Collins notes in a report about North Korea’s power structure.

“As the younger sister of North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Kim Yo-jong is part of the ‘Paektu bloodline’ which is considered within Kim regimen ideology as ‘royal blood,’ and therefore justifies the continuity of the Kim family’s dominance of leadership in North Korea.”

While Ms Kim is undoubtedly feared and respected in North Korea, some experts have questioned whether she would actually be permitted to take over.

Ken Eom, a North Korean defector who served a decade in the military, said the regimen would never accept a woman in power.

“North Korea doesn’t accept woman’s power,” Mr Eom told The Daily Beast. “This means … if Kim Jong-un dies, at the same time Kim Yo-jong also will be out, too.”

He said she “has great power to control the North Korean elite, but if Kim Jong-un is out or dies, she cannot continuously keep power”.

North Korea specialist Leonid Petrov similarly told The Guardian that old traditions would keep her from adopting the mantle of leader.

“Kim Yo-jong knows how to smooth Kim Jong-un’s initiatives and strengthen his soft power … but she won’t replace the primary decision-maker,” he said. “North Korea is a Confucian country where seniority and masculinity are respected. She is Kim’s most trusted ally, but no more than that.”

There are a few male candidates in the mix.

One candidate is Mr Kim’s current number two Choe Ryong-hae – who has become the leader’s “go to” man in recent years.

He didn’t receive particular public attention until Mr Jong Il’s death but was then a key asset in securing Mr Kim’s leadership.

A less likely candidate is Mr Kim’s elder brother Kim Jong-chul who may finally choose to step out of the shadows.

He was overlooked by his dad as he was deemed not politically savvy or strong enough to stand up to its enemies.

The 38-year-old was the third of Kim Jong-il’s five children but was never seen as a likely ruler due to his “soft personality” and love of Eric Clapton.


Kim Jong-un is in “a vegetative state” in a coma following a botched heart operation, according to new reports.

The unverified claims – which follow online rumours of his death – emerged as a team of Chinese medical experts reportedly flew in to treat the North Korean despot, who has not been seen in public for two weeks, The Sun reported.

Rumours intensified about Kim Jong-un’s condition as a the Chinese team including health care experts is dispatched into North Korea to treat him, according to Reuters.

The trip by Chinese doctors and officials to Pyongyang comes after reports the North Korean leader was in a critical condition after cardiovascular surgery.

A delegation including the medical staff and led by a senior member of the Chinese Communist Party’s International Liaison Department left Beijing for North Korea on Thursday.

The New York Post is reporting a vice director of HKSTV Hong Kong Satellite Television, a Beijing-backed broadcast network in Hong Kong, claimed that Kim was dead, citing a “very solid source”.

Her post on the Chinese messaging app Weibo has been shared widely on social media, according to a report in the International Business Times.

Earlier in the week, South Korean news site Daily NK reported Kim was recovering after undergoing a cardiovascular procedure on April 12.

US officials said they were told Kim’s condition was critical after the surgery, although President Donald Trump has since cast doubt on the report.

Seoul officials and a source within the Liaison Department have challenged reports Kim was gravely ill. On Saturday there were reports from Japan that the North Korean leader was in a “vegetative state”.

Speculation about Kim’s condition has escalated in the two weeks since he was last seen in public, at a politburo meeting on April 11.

On April 15, he was conspicuous in his absence from birthday celebrations of the founder of the North Korean state, his grandfather and state founder Kim Il Sung.

On Thursday, President Trump told reporters he thought the report Kim was gravely ill “was incorrect” but declined to say if he had been in touch with North Korea.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News when asked about Kim’s health: “I don’t have anything I can share with you tonight, but the American people should know we’re watching the situation very keenly”.

Kim Jong-un, whose age is either 36 or 37, is said to be a heavy smoker, and has gained weight since he succeeded his father in 2011.

He also may have hereditary cardiovascular disease.

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