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.
North Korea also began to dismantle loudspeakers it had erected only last week, traditionally used to blast anti-South Korean messages over the border, Yonhap reported.
The move represents a notable de-escalation in rhetoric after Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong’s orders to the army to “decisively carry out the next action” – in part because of what Pyongyang said was Seoul’s failure to stop activists floating balloons with anti-regime leaflets over the border.
The meeting also discussed documents outlining measures for “further bolstering the war deterrent of the country,” KCNA reported.
Tensions between North and South Korea appeared to be on the mend when in 2018, leaders of both countries met for the first time at the border.
The historic summit saw both sides pledge to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons – and in the months that followed, there were efforts to improve ties and maintain dialogue.
However, the relationship has been on a downward spiral after a failed summit between Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump.
And the past few weeks saw relations deteriorate especially rapidly – prompted by defector groups in South Korea sending propaganda across the border,
South Korean activists typically send balloons that carry objects like leaflets, USB sticks or DVDs with criticism of the Pyongyang regime, as well as South Korean news reports or even Korean dramas.
All of this is aimed at breaking North Korea’s control on domestic information with the hope that people might eventually topple the regime from within.
The South Korean government has already tried to stop groups sending leaflets across the border, arguing their actions put residents near the border at risk. The move prompted North Korea to renew threats of military action – and shortly afterwards it blew up a joint liaison office that it had established with South Korea in 2018.
Russia expressed concern at the renewed tensions between the Koreas.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on June 16: “We call for restraint from all the sides.”
Tensions between North and South Korea have been escalating for weeks, prompted by defector groups in the South sending propaganda across the border.
Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong – considered a close and powerful ally – threatened at the weekend to demolish the office.
There were hopes for improved relations between North Korea and South Korea and its close ally the US after President Donald Trump met Kim Jong-un at the North-South border last June, but nothing materialized and the atmosphere has since deteriorated.
North Korea is under crippling US and UN economic sanctions over its militarized nuclear program. Washington has not yet commented on the North’s latest action.
In recent weeks, North Korea has repeatedly condemned South Korea for allowing propaganda into its territory.
Defector groups regularly send such material via balloons, or even drones, into North Korea.
According to US officials, VP Mike Pence was due to meet North Korean officials at the Winter Olympics last week, but the North Koreans canceled the meeting at the last moment.
VP Mike Pence was in South Korea for the opening of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
A spokesman said the vice-president was scheduled to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, among others.
It would have been the first official interaction between North Korea and the Trump administration.
North Korea has made no comment on the reports.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said when the “possibility arose” of a brief meeting with the North Korean delegation, Mike Pence “was ready to take this opportunity to drive home the necessity of North Korea abandoning its illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programs”.
Heather Nauert said in a statement: “At the last minute, DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] officials decided not to go forward with the meeting. We regret their failure to seize this opportunity.”
North Korea’s attendance at the Winter Olympics was seen as a major thaw in consistently tense relations on the Korean peninsula.
Mike Pence was criticized by some for not engaging diplomatically with the North Koreans while in South Korea.
He sat feet away from Kim Yo-jong – who is accused of human rights violations – at the Games but did not interact with her, saying: “I didn’t believe it was proper for the United States of America to give her any attention in that forum.”
Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, said North Korea had “dangled a meeting in hopes of the vice president softening his message, which would have ceded the world stage for their propaganda during the Olympics”.
“This administration will stand in the way of Kim’s desire to whitewash their murderous regime with nice photo ops at the Olympics. Perhaps that’s why they walked away from a meeting or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down,” Nick Ayers said.
On leaving the Games, Mike Pence said the US and its allies remained firmly aligned on North Korea
“There is no daylight between the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan on the need to continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically until they abandon their nuclear and ballistic missile program.”
However, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has said he is considering accepting an invitation to visit Kim Jong-un in North Korea.
South Korean and North Korean athletes entered under the same flag during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
North Korea ice hockey player Chung Gum Hwang and South Korean bobsledder Won Yun-jong were joint flagbearers.
Olympic president Thomas Bach has declared: “We are stronger than all the forces that want to divide us.”
Russian athletes came in under the neutral Olympic flag during the ceremony.
Russia is banned from the Games, and the forthcoming Paralympics, as a consequence of the 2016 McLaren report which claimed more than 1,000 of its sportspeople benefitted from state-sponsored doping.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) invited 169 Russians who have met the anti-doping criteria to compete as independent athletes and their team will be known as the ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’.
An estimated 35,000 spectators inside the Olympic Stadium were given seat warmers, wind shields, hats and gloves with temperatures as low as -6C during the two hour-long ceremony.
Senior political figures from North Korea and the United States – two of the countries at the center of the political row – were both present.
Kim Yo-jong, the influential sister of North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, was sat one row behind VP Mike Pence in the VIP section.
South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in shook hands with Kim Yo-jong and said at the ceremony: “I would like to take this opportunity to convey greetings and a message of friendship from the people of Korea.
“The Seoul 1988 Summer Games paved the way for reconciliation between east and west – breaking down the wall of the Cold War. Thirty years after hosting the Summer Games, the Pyeongchang Olympics has commenced with a hope for peace from everyone around the world.
“It was with an ardent desire that the people of Korea aspired to host the Winter Games, the only divided nation in the world. It mirrors the Olympic spirit in its pursuit of peace.”
North Korea announced it was to send a delegation to Pyeongchang in January after it met its South counterparts in their first high-level talks in more than two years.
The North Korean team consists of 22 athletes who will compete in five sports, although their women’s ice hockey players will compete in a unified Korean team. They played together for the first time on February 4 in their only practice match, which they lost 3-1 to Sweden.
The ‘wow moments’ in the ceremony included the formation of the Olympic Rings made up of 1,218 drones – a Guinness World Record for drones used in a performance – and 100 skiers.
There was also ‘the vision of peace in the sky’ which was a constellation inside the arena, while ‘the balance of yin and yang’ saw Korean drummers perform in unison before forming the South Korea flag. And the center of the stadium was lit up in the eye-catching ‘link to the world’ segment.
It all culminated in the ceremony centerpiece, which was the traditional lighting of the Olympic flame. That saw the final torchbearer Yuna Kim, who won Olympic ice skating gold in 2010, at the top of a slope light the flame as 30 fire rings ascended towards the white moon-shaped porcelain cauldron.
Believed to have been born in 1987, Kim Yo-jong is the youngest daughter of late leader Kim Jong-il and is Kim Jong-un’s full sister. She is about four years younger than her brother and is said to be very close to him.
Kim Yo-jong is reportedly married to the son of Choe Ryong-hae, the powerful party secretary.
She has been in the spotlight sporadically in recent years, with her main job being to protect her brother’s image via her role in the party’s propaganda department.
Kim Yo-jong remains blacklisted by the United States over alleged links to human rights abuses in North Korea.
It would be the first by a direct member of the Kim dynasty.
Chang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle and brother in law of Kim Jong-il, did travel to South Korea but did not belong to the Baekdu blood line, which is considered significant.
North Korea is holding a huge rally in capital Pyongyang to mark the end of the Workers’ Party Congress, the first in 36 years.
The congress of North Korea’s ruling party cemented the position of leader Kim Jong-un, elevating him to the role of party chairman.
On May 10, state media announced that Kim Jong-un’ sister, Kim Yo-jong, had been elected to the ruling committee.
The Congress also endorsed the national policy of building nuclear capability alongside economic development.
Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have joined the rally in Pyongyang, where Kim Jong-un was seen waving to the crowds and chatting with military and party officials.
People marched through the square waving pink paper flowers, colored balloons and red party flags. Floats were also moved through the square, some of them carrying mock-ups of missiles.
The confirmation of a new title for Kim Yo-jong had been widely expected.
Kim Jong-un’s younger sister is already influential as vice-director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, but her elevation to the central committee is seen as a further consolidation of power around her brother.
More than 100 foreign reporters have been granted visas to cover the congress, although only a few were, briefly, allowed in to watch the meeting.
The congress, which began on May 6, also launched a new five-year plan for the economy, which has been hit by some of its strongest sanctions yet after the country’s recent nuclear and rocket tests.
Kim Jong-un also used a speech to say North Korea would not use its nuclear weapons unless its sovereignty was threatened.
China has sent a message of congratulations to Kim Jong-un on his new position, though it declined to send a representative to the gathering.
Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, is expected to take up an important role in North Korea’s core leadership as the secretive country gears up for a rare party congress this weekend.
South Korea’s news agency Yonhap has quoted experts as saying that Yo-jong may take up a minister-level post within the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.
The move will likely be seen as part of a larger plan by Kim Jong-un to cement power within his party and over the country.
According to North Korea Leadership Watch, a website run by scholar Michael Madden, Kim Yo-jong is the youngest daughter of late leader Kim Jong-il, and shares the same mother as Jong-un and brother Jong-chol.
Born in 1987, Kim Yo-jong is said to be very close to Kim Jong-un, who is four years older than her. The two of them lived and studied in Berne, Switzerland at the same time.
Kim Yo-jong is reportedly married to the son of Choe Ryong-hae, the powerful party secretary.
Her main job has been to protect her brother’s image, taking up a key role in the party’s propaganda department in 2014.
Kim Yo-jong is said to manage all his public appearances, including his itineraries and logistics, as well as act as a political adviser.
Kim Jong-un’s sister has sporadically been in the spotlight in recent years, appearing at the state funeral of her father in 2011 and the election of her brother in 2014, and occasionally seen trailing her brother in state media pictures.
In October 2015, Kim Yo-jong she was rumored to have been sacked from the propaganda department by Jong-un for doing a poor job.
However, observers believe that she is still destined for a top job in the leadership, with a place said to be carved out for her as early as 2008, when major succession planning was conducted following Kim Jong-il’s deterioration in health.
Kim Yo-jong was even speculated to be a possible, though unlikely, candidate to take over from her brother when Jong-un disappeared from public view for a prolonged period in 2014.
She has been described as having a sweet, good-natured disposition, with a bit of a tomboy streak in he.
However, reports say Kim Yo-jong also has had a sheltered upbringing, and other members of the Kim family have not interacted with her much.
School officials in Switzerland have said Kim Yo-jong was over-protected by the coterie of guards and caretakers – she once reportedly had a mild cold and was immediately pulled from school and taken to the hospital.
Kim Jong-un has been elected to North Korea Supreme People’s Assemblywith an unanimous vote from his district, state media say.
Meanwhile, state media on Sunday identified a woman accompanying Kim Jong-un to a polling station.
Kim Yo-jong, who state media described as a “senior official”, is thought to be the younger sister of Kim Jong-un.
Various reports say Kim Jong-un’s sister may be 26 or 27 years old.
Kim Yo-jong accompanies her brother Kim Jong-un on touring campus of Kim Il-sung University of Politics in east Pyongyang
It was not her first appearance, Kim Yo-jong, who is believed to be 26 years old, was seen at her father Kim Jong-il’s televised funeral in 2011, and occasionally accompanying her brother on his “field guidance trips.”
In 2012, state TV showed Kim Yo-jong with her aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, riding a white horse, the representation of a symbol associated with the Kim family, AFP says.
In her latest appearance, Kim Yo-jong was seen in a black skirt suit, closely walking behind her brother, and casting her vote.
She is believed to be the events director in Kim Jong-un’s Secretariat office, but her price position was never detailed.
The Kim family has ruled the country for over six decades.
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