Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has received more responsibilities in the government, South Korea’s spy agency claims.
Kim Jong-un still maintains “absolute authority”, but handed various policy areas to others to reduce his stress levels, the spy agency reportedly said.
Kim Yo-jong is now “steering overall state affairs”, the National Intelligence Service added.
However, South Korea’s spy agency has been wrong about North Korea in the past.
The claims were reportedly made during a closed-door briefing on August 20 to South Korea’s National Assembly.
Lawmakers then discussed the assessment with journalists.
The agency was quoted as saying: “Kim Jong-un is still maintaining his absolute authority, but some of it has been handed over little by little.”
Kim Yo-jong now has responsibility for Pyongyang’s policy towards the US and South Korea, among other policy issues, and is “the de-facto number two leader,” it added, although it stressed that Kim Jong-un had “not selected a successor.”
The North Korean leader’s decision to delegate was in part to “relieve stress from his reign and avert culpability in the event of policy failure,” it said.
However, some analysts have been skeptical of the intelligence, with website NKNews noting that Kim Yo-jong appeared to have missed two important meetings this month, leading to speculation from some observers that she may have been demoted.
Kim Yo-jong is the younger sister of Kim Jong-un and the only one of his siblings considered a close and powerful ally.
Born in 1987, she is four years younger than Kim Jong-un. The two of them lived and studied in Bern, Switzerland, at the same time.
Kim Yo-jong first gained international attention in 2018, when she was the first member of the Kim dynasty to visit South Korea.
She was part of the delegation to the Winter Olympics, where North and South competed as a joint team.
Kim Yo-jong also worked alongside her brother at international summits, including his meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, China’s Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump.