June 08, 2020 12:05
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister Yo-jong now appears to be in charge of all inter-Korean matters.
Cross-border relations used to be handled by apparatchiks in North Korea's United Front Department and the military, but ex-intelligence officers here say it looks like Kim Yo-jong has been put personally in charge as her brother streamlines the regime.
One indication was that a spokesperson for the UFD on Friday merely parroted a warning from Kim Yo-jong that the North could close the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong. The spokesperson did not say what department Kim Yo-jong is affiliated with but merely referred to her by her politburo title.
A day earlier, Kim Yo-jong had issued a shrilly worded statement condemning the South for failing to stop activists from sending propaganda leaflets over the border and threatened dire consequences.
More and more North Korean agencies are quoting Kim Yo-jong's denunciations of South Korea. A government source here said, "Kim Yo-jong' remarks are being treated as a directive from the leader."
Kim Jong-un relies increasingly on his younger sister amid mounting difficulties due to intensifying sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic. The slight but grim-faced young woman seems to have been assigned the role of bad cop in North Korean diplomacy, while her jolly rotund brother does the glad-handing.
In March, Kim Jong-un sent a letter of condolence to President Moon Jae-in on the death of his mother only a day after his sister had issued a statement criticizing Cheong Wa Dae.
The development follows a brief honeymoon. It was Kim Yo-jong who visited South Korea as a North Korean representative during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018 and met Moon four times. She also met then-chief presidential secretary Im Jong-seok as well as other key South Korean government officials, each time wreathed in smiles by her standards.
One former Unification Ministry official said she seems to have ben tasked with "maximizing efforts to tame South Korea because she is thought to be liked here."
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