Keeping up with the Kims: Potential power struggle brewing in North Korea, says diplomat

Keeping up with the Kims: Potential power struggle brewing in North Korea, says diplomat

There is a potential “power struggle” brewing between the members of North Korea’s first family over the succession to the supreme leader’s throne, according to a former diplomat.

Kim Jong-un’s firebrand sister Kim Yo-jong was rumoured to be the next in line before the supreme leader’s daughter made her public debut.

Kim Ju-ae, the supreme leader’s second and “most beloved” child, believed to be just 10 years old, was first seen in public at a missile launch with Mr Kim last year.

Prior to that launch, the only confirmation of her existence had come from former American basketball player Dennis Rodman, who spent time with the supreme leader’s family during his visit to North Korea in 2013.

Since the launch, Ju-ae has been seen at a number of events accompanying her father, with the latest appearance being at a two-day “combined tactical drill to substantially bolster the country’s war deterrence and nuclear counterattack capability”.

At a major state event in February, the daughter was seen walking side-by-side with the supreme leader, while Mr Kim’s wife, Ri Sol-ju, trailed.

“Kim Yo-jong is at the center of the regime and is a close aide to Kim Jong-un, handling a lot of tasks of North Korea and Ri Sol-ju is worried that, while her children are very young, Kim Yo-jong is overly active,” Ko Young Hwan, one of Pyongyang’s top diplomats who defected in 1991, told Newsweek.

“So, I think some kind of power struggle is going on between Kim Yo-jong and Ri Sol-ju,” he said.

The supreme leader’s youngest sister climbed the ranks to become the vice director of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party Propaganda and Agitation Department. However, Mr Kim’s focus shifted to his 10-year-old amid speculation that he is grooming his daughter to become his family’s fourth-generation heir.

Kim Jong Il reportedly showed off Kim Jong-un, his youngest son, in 2010, only about a year before the latter was anointed leader.

The decision to introduce his daughter was taken by Mr Kim “to imply the fourth-generation power transfer to senior officials and military elite as well as, externally, that Kim Jong-un wants to portray his image as ‘daddy’, loving his own daughter and caring for the future of the nation,” the diplomat said.

Showing off Ju-ae alongside Mr Kim at missile sites, live-fire launches and military events indicates he “thinks that the transfer of nuclear weapons to the future is a means to protect his own nation and he wants to portray that image”.

Since Ju-ae’s public introduction, Ms Kim has been “sidelined” leading to a tiff in the family, Mr Ko said.

He pointed out that insider frictions leading up to Ju-ae’s public debut were the reason behind an alleged altercation between Ms Kim and influential former Propaganda and Agitation Department Director Kim Ki Nam.

Ms Kim is rumoured to have shouted and thrown documents during the dispute and was “very angry”, Newsweek reported.

Ms Kim’s absence from state media coverage during key events has been evident and watched by “all Koreans”, which proves that “Kim Yo-jong is losing ground to Kim Ju-ae”, the diplomat pointed out.