Only a few months ago, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un’s sister served the country as ‘de-facto second-in-command’ when he mysteriously vanished and rumours about his health gained momentum. Now Kim Yo Jong is just a ‘vice department director’ of the ruling party, demoted from her previous title of ‘first vice department director’.
Her new designation was revealed by North Korean state media when her statement against South Korea was released on Wednesday.
On the contrary, she was expected to be offered full membership of the Politburo during a Workers’ Party congress that concluded on Tuesday.
But while Kim Jong Un raised himself to the rank of general secretary, joining the league of his late father and grandfather becoming ‘the brain of the revolution’, he downsized his rising sister denying her a status she deserved.
The move surprised everyone. When the eight-day congress opened, 32-year-old Kim Yo Jong was seen sharing the leadership podium with elderly male party leaders. But when a list of 30 Politburo members (both full and alternate) was declared, her name didn’t figure.
Curiously, only last year Kim Yo Jong had become an alternate member of the Politburo and was supposed to be elevated in the rare meeting held after 2016.
The change in her stature is an uncanny shift amounting to detaching Kim Yo Jong from Kim Jong Un’s inner circle. Given that a Politburo membership ensures proximity to the supreme leader and the decision-making exercise. Indeed a necessity for political survival.
Now the question emerges why did Kim Jong Un sideline his sister, who stood by him when he needed it most and secured his supremacy when uncertainty loomed over the country after his disappearance?
Two contradictory theories are doing the rounds. First theory hints at the failure of her policies regarding North Korea’s relations with the United States and South Korea.
Kim Jong Un’s sister rose to fame during North Korea’s nuclear diplomacy with the United States. In the twin summits between Kim and Trump (in Singapore and Hanoi), another common figure was, of course, Kim Yo Jong who constantly remained on her brother’s side and was believed to be playing as his chief of staff.
But the nuclear diplomacy between North Korea and the United States fell through and Kim Jong Un is back to strengthening his nuclear arsenal, calling out the United States his biggest enemy.
Similarly, when Kim Yo Jong attended the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea’s Pyeongchang, she was called a messenger of peace. Because amid the unending rivalry between the two neighbours since the beginning of the 1950 Korean War, she was the first member of North Korea’s ruling family to visit South Korea.
The posturing, however, didn’t pay off, and to counter her fall from grace amid growing cynicism in the political corridor over her diplomatic strategy, Kim Yo Jong made a U-turn unleashing tirades against South Korea and the United States. Many believe despite her well-timed shots she may not have succeeded in salvaging her position.
The other theory around her downgrading speaks of Kim Jong Un’s sense of insecurity with his sister’s growing popularity in the country. Many believe Kim may have begun to see her as a challenger to his position, especially after his disappearance when she was considered the heir apparent to her brother. Therefore it is believed that keeping her out of the ‘power list’ fortified his control over reign, when the country is faced with difficult challenges.
Though, both the theories seem to be a part of general political speculations. Since neither the North Korea leader nor his sister has shown any sign of differences between the siblings.
Kim Jong Un is still close and approachable to his sister, and she continues to be a member of Central Committee. So the conjectures around her diminishing political influence could be premature, and (who knows?) Kim Yo Jong might be given some significant posts later.