North Korea: Kim Yo-jong

Published on April 23, 2020

In the waning hours of Monday evening, a cable television news outlet broke with the stunning report that US officials were monitoring intelligence indicating North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, was in “grave danger” following cardiovascular surgery earlier this month.

Since then, there has been little more in the way of actual news – or reporting for that matter – on the status of Kim Jong-un beyond analysis, speculation, and now unsubstantiated claims out of Pyongyang that the Supreme Leader had just personally fired off a note to fellow dictator, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, ostensibly still alive and well.

** According to senior Beijing sources, our understanding is that Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of Kim Jong-un who was elevated to the global stage in an unusually public fashion during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games of PyeongChang, held a phone call with China’s Ambassador to Pyongyang, Li Jinjun on Tuesday evening, local time.

** This, we are told, was the first time Kim the sister had spoken with Li since her “re-election” as an alternate member of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK) in early April.

** Kim Yo-jong, according to these sources, told the Chinese ambassador “reports in the US and other western media about Kim Jong-un’s health had ulterior motives, and were fabricated out of thin air.” The Supreme Leader, she maintained, had chaired two small meeting that very same afternoon, one of which had been attended by Kim Yo-jong herself.

** In a continued war of words with the US, or an effort perhaps at deflection, Kim Yo-jong is said to have suggested that these reports over the health of her brother may have been circulated in retaliation over an embarrassing denial on Sunday by the North Korean Foreign Ministry that the Supreme Leader had sent a letter to President Donald Trump, after Trump had told reporters on Saturday he had just received a “nice note” from Kim Jong-un.

** Finally, Kim Yo-jong is said to have promised the Chinese ambassador she would meet with him soon — in the very near future.

We would urge an extra dose of caution over political motivations and spin in this intriguing account of the phone call between the sister of the North Korean leader and the envoy from Beijing, especially regarding such sensitive matters of intelligence.

It does appear that Kim Jong-un is most likely still alive, and perhaps even, as claimed, recovering from the cardiovascular surgery – which incidentally is not being denied.

The most interesting point, however, may be in the accounting of the very call itself – and in the dominant role being played by Kim Yo-jong in Pyongyang’s vital communication line with Beijing.

That, at a highly sensitive time like this, would imply to us Kim Yo-jong’s clear position as heir apparent to her brother Kim Jong-un, and if anything, may keep speculation over a transition from Kim Jong-un alive.

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