North Korean leader’s sister Kim Yo Jong appears to have been promoted
State media suggests Kim holding broader, if not higher-profile, role in the ruling party
North Korean state media since August 31 has listed Kim Yo Jong, first vice director of the Workers Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee (CC) Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD), before Jo Yong Won, first vice director of the WPK CC Organization and Guidance Department (OGD).
This suggests a change in Kim’s position in the party, possibly a promotion to a party department director or an OGD first vice department director who is higher ranking than Jo.
Kim’s apparent promotion builds on what may have been her reinstatement as party Political Bureau (PB) alternate member after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s June 20-21 visit to Pyongyang.
Kim’s promotion could mean a commensurate move up among the ranks of the PB as well.
The South Korean National Intelligence Service in late June assessed that Kim had already ascended within the DPRK leadership ranks by the time of Xi’s visit to Pyongyang, but NK Pro differed from that view.
If Kim has been promoted, it likely points to her broadened, if not higher-profile, role in the party, going forward.
One potential area for Kim to play a greater part in, besides her party department portfolio, is DPRK-China exchanges and cooperation. Kim’s role in DPRK-Sino ties extends beyond Xi’s Pyongyang visit.
She was spotted at major Chinese delegation visits to Pyongyang in 2018, for example welcoming a Chinese friendship art delegation led by Song Tao, head of the Chinese party’s International Liaison Department, in April, and a Chinese party and government delegation led by Xi’s special envoy Li Zhanshu, member of the Chinese party Politburo Standing Committee, in September.
Kim named before Jo
On August 31, North Korean media listed Kim Yo Jong first and Jo Yong Won second among the “party CC and State Affairs Commission cadres” who accompanied Kim Jong Un to the Yangdok County Hot Springs Tourist Zone.
On September 11, state media again listed Kim first and Jo second on a list of “party CC cadres” who guided the test-fire of a “super-large multiple rocket launcher” with the leader. “Party CC cadres” technically can mean any ranking party official, but here they refer to party department officials.
DPRK state media typically adheres to a strict name-listing convention that reflects the current leadership hierarchy. In this vein, the latest listings of party department officials suggest Kim Jong Un’s sister now outranks Jo.
These two instances marked the first time state media listed Kim Yo Jong before Jo Yong Won since Jo’s promotion to first vice director of the WPK CC OGD at the party plenum on April 10. On July 27, when Kim Yo Jong and Jo Yong Won last appeared together in public prior to August 31, Jo was listed before Kim Yo Jong.
This indicates that Kim Yo Jong’s party standing changed sometime between July 27 and August 31. State media’s reference to Jo as a “first vice director of a WPK CC department” as recently as August 7, plus the lack of a change in Jo’s public profile over the past month, suggest Kim’s promotion, not Jo’s demotion.
What does one have to be to precede Jo Yong Won?
The August 31 and September 11 listings of officials were based on their party department affiliations and titles. For Kim Yo Jong to be listed before a first vice director of the OGD — Jo Yong Won — she would likely have to be the director of a party department, or an OGD first vice director who outranks Jo.
Major North Korean party departments, such as the OGD and PAD, are known to have more than one first vice director.
There are at least two other possibilities — Kim’s promotion in the PB or to a party CC vice chairperson without a change in her PAD first vice director title — but both scenarios seem highly improbable.
DPRK media generally lists party department officials in the order of the department director, first vice department director, and vice department director. In each category, the OGD officer is typically named first, as the OGD is the top department of the party.
This explains why Jo Yong Won had been named first among the party’s first vice department directors in 21 out of his 22 appearances with Kim Jong Un since his promotion in April.
The only one time when Jo was not named first was on May 5, when state media listed Ri Pyong Chol, first vice director of the party’s Munitions Industry Department, before Jo while reporting on the leader’s guidance of a missile launch.
The ordering of the remaining departments appears to depend on the relevance of the department to the event.
The change in Kim’s party position likely means that she now outranks Jo on the party CC PB as well. As of June 5, Jo ranked fourth out of 12 PB alternate members.
Kim’s PB alternate member status
Kim Yo Jong’s apparent promotion builds on what may have been her reinstatement as PB alternate member sometime after Xi Jinping’s June 20-21 Pyongyang visit, and before a national meeting marking Kim Il Sung’s 25th death anniversary on July 8.
Kim was absent from the photo Xi took with the North Korean party PB leadership in Pyongyang on June 20, indicating that she remained out of the PB at least as of that date.
At the national meeting on July 8, however, Kim was listed second among the attending PB alternate members, after Jo Yon Jun, first vice director of the party CC OGD.
This mirrored Kim’s place among the PB alternate members prior to the party plenum in April, suggesting that she may have regained her PB title and perhaps even her previous rank among the PB alternate members.
If Kim has regained her PB alternate member title, it is possible that Xi’s Pyongyang visit may have helped. A June 22 Pyongyang television documentary of Xi’s visit showed Kim Yo Jong closely involved throughout Xi’s sojourn.
Not only was she mentioned as one of the officials welcoming and bidding farewell to Xi and his wife at the Pyongyang airport; the documentary showed Kim, with party International Department Director Ri Su Yong, personally picking up Xi and his wife at their accommodation to take them to the airport.
Kim Yo Jong appears to have lost her PB alternate member title during the April party plenum, where unnamed PB presidium members, members, and alternate members were “recalled.”
The absence of Kim Yo Jong from a photo that Kim Jong Un took with the party PB leadership following the party plenum in April, and from major national events following the party plenum, indicated as such.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Blue House
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