Higher Profile for Kim Jong-un's Sister
The North Korean regime is raising the profile of leader Kim Jong-un's sister Yo-jong, who accompanied her brother on seven public appearances in January alone.
Kim Yo-jong is her brother's second most frequent companion after Hwang Pyong-so, the head of the Army politburo and widely thought to be the most powerful official behind the throne.
In 2014, Kim Yo-jong accompanied her brother only 10 times the whole year. She has recently been promoted to deputy director of a Workers Party department.
The trips, often described as "on-the-spot guidance," were mostly to civilian facilities, as well as to some munitions factories and military units.
"It seems that Kim Yo-jong has assumed the role of assisting her brother at close range and even deputizing for him, while Hwang is only playing a functional role," a Unification Ministry official here speculated.
A source said Kim Yo-jong has been working on building up the personality cult surrounding her brother. She also now seems to be overseeing projects to earn hard currency, a job previously handled by her aunt Kim Kyong-hui.
Kim Kyong-hui is the widow of the leader's executed uncle Jang Song-thaek, the former eminence grise, and has withdrawn from the limelight since her husband's death.
Kim Yo-jong speaks Japanese fluently and "is playing the role of No. 2 person in all sectors of government," according to Prof. Nam Sung-wook of Korea University. "It seems that she has more power than her aunt ever did."
Meanwhile, a new close aide to Kim Jong-un has emerged in the person of Han Kwang-sang, who accompanied him on seven outings last month. Han accompanied Kim 65 times in 2014, the second most frequent companion.
"When Kim was heir apparent, Han was in charge of importing foreign cars," the source said. "I understand that whenever he imported cars, Han set aside an ultramodern world-class car for Kim."