Who is Kim Yo Jong? Korea scholars believe she was born in 1987 or 1988, and that she is close to her brother, Kim Jong Un. Their father, Kim Jong Il, fathered at least seven children by four women, but Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong have the same parentage. They were raised by their mother Ko Young Hui at a hillside estate, says Michael Madden, the founder of North Korea Leadership Watch. Largely restricted to the palace grounds, they were exposed, for the most part, to family members and close friends.
“As they say in [Martin Scorsese’s mafia epic] Goodfellas, ‘There were never any outsiders,’” says Madden. “The life of Kim children was hermetically sealed.” Liker her brother, Kim Yo Jong studied in Switzerland, reportedly attending the International School of Berne. She is then believed to have studied computer science at Kim Il Sung University in North Korea.
Kim Yo Jong was rarely seen in public before 2010, when she was pictured in attendance at a party conference. Her appointment as deputy director of the party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department in 2014 significantly boosted her national profile. Kim Yo Jong and Kim Jong Un both have the same mother — Ko Yang Hui, a former dancer born in Japan who was a partner of Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promoted his younger sister to a top political post, according to state media, prompting an air of intrigue about the new Kim in Pyongyang. The decision to appoint Kim Yo Jong — Kim Jong Un’s sister — as a member of the regime’s Political Bureau stirred the most curiosity.
Her position is such that, according to a Seoul-based think tank run by North Korean defectors, Kim Yo Jong briefly took charge of the country while her brother was reportedly ill with gout or diabetes in late 2014.
Kim Yo Jong Full Biography and Profile
At some point in the mid-1990s, as North Korea starved, Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong were sent to to school in Switzerland. They studied under pseudonyms, presumably to protect their privacy and keep them safe. Remarkably little is known about their time there, Madden says.
Upon returning to the DPRK, Kim Yo Jong likely attended university, although the details of that period are still fuzzy. Her stature within the clan started to crystallize at Kim Jong Il’s funeral, when she was spotted walking directly behind heir-apparent Kim Jong Un.
Analysts are still piecing together what, exactly, Kim Yo Jong does. She has been pictured several times in her brother’s company, often on “field guidance tours” (that’s DPRK-speak for the Kim clan looking at things). These appearances have fueled theories that she serves as a sort of events director and aide to her brother, managing his schedule and accompanying him on trips.
If that is indeed her role — and again, these things are difficult to pinpoint — it suggests a level of closeness that would give her access to a lot of information. “She may be one of the only people Kim Jong Un trusts completely,” Madden says.
- Kim Yo Jong was the only woman among six delegates at April’s historic talks between North and South Korea at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the two countries.
- While she diligently took notes as her brother spoke and sought no moment in the spotlight, the 30-year-old has been widely seen as instrumental in making the summit happen.
- It was Kim, as the first member of the North’s ruling dynasty to visit the South since the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953, who delivered a message to the South for a desired detente at the Olympics.
- And it was Kim who personally delivered a letter on her brother’s behalf to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, as communications resumed between the nations.
Her presence at Kim Jong Un’s side is rich with symbolism. Her first official public appearance, in March 2014, came not long after the disappearance of her aunt Kim Kyong Hui, who has not been seen since her husband Jang Sung Thaek was executed in late 2013.
Before the purge, Kim Kyong Hui was a close adviser to Kim Jong Il, holding key jobs in the ruling party and “protecting her brother’s flank,” according to Ken Gause, a Korea expert at CNA Corp., a Washington, D.C.–based research firm. Kim Il Sung, the country’s revered founding father, also ruled with a sibling — his brother — at his side (until he demoted him).
This new sibling pairing provides an important sense of continuity. Though North Korea is often called a communist state, it is really more of a totalitarian monarchy. North Koreans are taught that Kim Il Sung was a fearsome warrior who, while camped at the base of Mount Paektu with some comrades, crushed a much larger force of Japanese invaders.
His son and heir, Kim Jong Il, is said to have been born at the same site, imbued with the same superhuman abilities — heck, he officially shot 11 holes in one in his first-ever game of golf.
Since the deification of the Kim clan is what makes North Korea tick, providing a symbolic link to the past makes sense, even while power passes to the next generation.
“The old power elites loyal to Kim Jong Il are being pushed out,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, in an interview earlier this year. “They will be replaced by new, younger elites who can safeguard the leadership of Kim Jong Un.” So goodbye, Kim Kyong Hui, and hello, Kim Yo Jong.
- Kim Yo Jong Biography and Profile (Goodreadbiography / Time / CNN)