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Did Kim Jong Un’s influential sister fall from grace?

SEOUL (AP) – What happened to Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korea’s top leader?

This is what many observers are wondering in the absence of his name in the new list of Politburo members.

There are those who say that Kim Jong Un may have demoted his sister, perhaps concerned about her growing popularity and influence as he tries to assert his authority to deal with the country’s economic problems.

Versions that Kim Yo Jong is his brother’s potential heir are dangerous because « they may raise doubts about Kim’s power and his health, » said Oh Gyeong-seob, an analyst at the Seoul National Unification Institute. That is why Kim Jong Un slows down his sister’s political projection a bit.

The news comes as a surprise because Kim Yo Jong, who was admitted as an alternate to the Politburo last year, was expected to be confirmed as a full member during the Workers’ Party congress that ended on Tuesday. Any figure with ambitions must go through the Politburo, the body that Kim Jong Un consults before making big decisions.

When the eight-day congress kicked off last week, Kim Yo Jong, who is believed to be 32 years old, was occupying a place on the leaders’ podium, standing out among mostly elderly and male cadres. But when the list of the 30 full and alternate members of the Politburo was announced, their names were not on it.

Kim Yo Jong remains a member of the PT Central Committee, another important body. But when she released a statement criticizing South Korea on Wednesday, she was identified as a « deputy department head, » a middle-level position.

Kim Jong Un tries to get around « the worst » difficulties this country of 25 million people has ever had. North Korea suffers from economic woes associated with the coronavirus, a series of natural disasters, and the impact of US sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear program.

“The purpose of the congress was to solidify the leadership of Kim Jong Un. If Kim Yo Jong had been admitted as a full member of the Politburo, all attention would have been focused on her, ”Ko Young-hwan, former vice-director of National Security Strategy, a think tank overseen by the South Korean spy agency, said on Monday. In a television program.

The Kim brothers are the third generation of the dynasty that has ruled North Korea for decades. His leadership is inherited from the cult of personality that began with his grandfather Kim Il Sung, founder of the country in 1948.

Kim Yo Jong gained international projection by accompanying her brother in his encounters with Donald Trump and other world leaders in 2018 and 2019. Her closeness with her brother suggested that she was his chief of staff.

In South Korea, she became known as a « messenger of peace » after attending the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. She was the first member of the ruling family to visit South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War.

Last year, however, he harshly criticized the South Koreans. South Korean state media said he was in charge of relations with South Korea and more than one speculated that he would also take charge of relations with the United States.

When unconfirmed rumors circulated that Kim Jong Un had health problems, many thought that Kim Yo Jong would be his successor if he was incapacitated. The South Korean spy agency said that year that she was the second most powerful person in North Korea but had not been designated as her brother’s heir.

« Kim Jong Un probably blamed his sister for worsening relations with the United States and South Korea, » said Kim Yeol Soo, an analyst at the Korean Institute of Military Affairs in South Korea.

Many experts consider that, despite not being in the Politburo, his political weight has not diminished and it is not ruled out that his brother will give him an important position in the future.

Analyst Oh pointed out that Kim Yo Jong is surely the second most powerful woman in North Korean history after Kim Song Ae, the late second wife of Kim Il Sung.

« Kim Yo Jong can meet and talk with Kim Jong Un whenever he wants … He is definitely influential, » Oh noted. « With the passage of time, his role will increase. »

« But you have to take care » and not be too ambitious, she added.