Kim Raises Sister’s Profile With North Korean Politburo Post
Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, holds a flower bouquet during a welcoming ceremony in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Photographer: Luong Thai Linh/Pool via Bloomberg)

Kim Raises Sister’s Profile With North Korean Politburo Post

(Bloomberg) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un raised the standing of his sister as a key player in the secretive state and bolstered his new foreign minister in a cadre shuffle that comes as he tries to fend off the coronavirus pandemic.

Part emissary, part personal assistant, Kim Yo Jong was reinstated to her position as an alternate Politburo member of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, state media said Saturday. The move returned her to the powerful decision-making body after she left the post last April and follows a series of roles since that included responding to overtures from U.S. President Donald Trump.

Kim Raises Sister’s Profile With North Korean Politburo Post

“Her media profile over the years suggests that her profile will continue to rise and that her role will continue to expand,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee, a former North Korea analyst with the U.S. government.

Meanwhile, General Pak Jong Chon, the former head of the North Korean army’s artillery division and currently the army’s chief of staff , was named as a full member of the Politburo. Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon, a former army officer who once led talks with South Korea, was named as an alternate member.

“Pak’s quick promotion and Ri’s lower position in the Political Bureau seem to reflect Kim Jong Un’s policy priorities -- national defense, with an emphasis on artillery over diplomacy,” Lee said.

North Korea held two major events over the weekend, with Kim Jong Un overseeing a meeting of the Politburo on Saturday addressing the “danger” of the coronavirus pandemic. The country’s rubber-stamp parliament known as the Supreme People’s Assembly met Sunday to implement the national budget.

While North Korea claims it has seen no coronavirus infections, the pandemic has put new pressures on Kim’s regime, which could see its antiquated and underfunded medical system overwhelmed by an outbreak. Kim Jong Un brought his already isolated country to a near standstill by sealing the borders in January to stop the virus, which halted the trickle of legal trade and tourism.

Meanwhile, Kim has kept his weapons program churning, test-launching nine short-range ballistic missiles in March -- a monthly record.

Kim Raises Sister’s Profile With North Korean Politburo Post

Kim Jong Un shook up his inner circle after Trump broke off a February 2019 summit in Hanoi. His reign has been marked by ruthless purges and executions, including the killing of his uncle and one-time deputy, Jang Song Thaek in 2013, as well as the murder of his older half-brother, Kim Jong Nam.

Kim Yo Jong was thrust into the global spotlight when she served as envoy to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and became the first member of the immediate ruling family to visit Seoul. Last month, she provided the regime’s response to a letter from Trump, saying that her brother’s “very excellent” relationship with the U.S. leader wasn’t enough to offset broader differences between the two sides.

Their aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, also had a prominent position under the regime of their late father, Kim Jong Il. Chin Hee-gwan, who researches North Korean leadership at Inje University’s Unification Research Center, said Kim Yo Jong’s was shaping up to be even more influential.

“Kim Yo Jong may have come into the role to inherit the position that Kim Kyong Hui had before the execution of her husband Jang Song Thaek, but she’s risen to a more prominent, significant role to be the de facto second-in command instead,” Chin said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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