Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
Kim Yo Jong (Kim Yo’-cho’ng), the 26 year old sister of DPRK leader Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n), is working in the National Defense Commission [NDC] as her older brother’s trip director. According to several ROK media reports, Kim Yo Jong is currently serving as a “protocol director” managing Kim Jong Un’s itineraries and public appearances and that “she started her career early last year .” While Kim may have been assigned her new position in early 2012, she has been active in the central party since 2009.
Kim has been observed on numerous occasions since 2009, when she accompanied her father, late DPRK leader Kim Jong Il (Kim Cho’ng-il), on guidance tours and inspections. In 2010 she posed for a commemorative photograph with participants in the 3rd Party Conference, standing alongside KJI’s fifth wife Kim Ok which suggested that she was working in the Personal Secretariat. In 2011 Kim Yo Jong was again observed at several of Kim Jong Il’s guidance tours, in the background with KJI’s personal aides and other Kim family members.
During events at her father’s funeral in December 2011, Kim was seen standing behind her brother as Kim Jong Un received foreign dignitaries. She lined up with members of the leadership when they paid their respects at KJI’s casket. Twice during calling hours, she led core members of the DPRK leadership, standing in the center, in bowing at KJI’s remains; on one occasion she led Korean Workers’ Party Secretary and Director of the United Fron Kim Yang Gon, KWP Secretary for Machine-Building Industry Pak To Chun, KWP Secretary and Director of Cadres’ Affairs Kim P’yo’ng-hae and Gen. U Tong Chuk to KJI’s bier; on another occasion she led Kim Chang Son, Kim Kang Chol and other officials of KJI’s Personal Secretariat to the bier. When a ceremony was held at Ku’msusan Memorial Palace of the Sun prior to the funeral service, Kim Yo Jong lined up with party elders Jon Pyong Ho, Choe Yong Rim and Kim Kuk Tae.
During 2012 and 2013 Kim Yo Jong has made several observed appearances, which ROK-based Pyongyang watchers link to her new role managing Kim Jong Un’s public appearances. She was observed playfully jumping in the background during the opening of a park in Pyongyang in the spring of 2012. In November the same year she attended Kim Jong Un’s visit to a Korean People’s Army equestrian training ground (now called the Mirim Riding Club). Although her presence was not reported in DPRK state media, two images of her riding a horse, including one with her paternal aunt Kim Kyong Hui, were aired in the Korean Central Television news report of the visit. Kim Yo Jong also was observed sitting with Kim Kyong Hui during a central party banquet in 2013.
Based on the description of her current role in support of her brother, Kim Yo Jong is working in a position similar to that of her older step-sister Kim So’l-song (Kim Sul Song). For a number of years Kim So’l-song worked directly for Kim Jong Il, holding a Lt. Colonel’s rank in the Guard Command and managing KJI’s itineraries and some of the logistical and security arrangements around his public appearances. After Kim Jong Il passed away, according to a well-placed DPRK source, Kim So’l-song moved into a more substantive managerial position (along with her husband) to support Kim Jong Un. Due to Kim Yo Jong’s familial relationship to Kim Jong Un some ROK-based Pyongyang watchers have compared her with her aunt, Kim Kyong Hui (with whom Yo Jong has a close relationship) who began working at the age of 25 at the Korean Democratic Women’s Union in 1971. Kim Yo Jong has other siblings and step-siblings who work around DPRK leadership circles including her oldest brother Kim Jong Chol (Kim Cho’ng-ch’o’l), who works in the KWP Propaganda and Agitation Department (note the name of the editor of Korea), and her older step-brother Kim Jong Nam, who manages several trading corporations.
Kim Yo Jong is Kim Jong Il’s youngest child and was the third child from his marriage to Ko Yong Hui (1953-2004). She was born in Pyongyang in 1987. Around 1996 Kim left the DPRK with Kim Jong Un to attend school in Berne, Switzerland. With her brother she resided at a DPRK-owned residence. Like her brother, she was registered at Swiss schools under an alias and was said to be the child of the residence’s domestic staff. She was looked after by a small staff of women whom school officials felt overprotected her (for example, when she had minor illnesses she was taken to a local hospital). Aside from holiday visits to her home country, Kim Yo Jong remained in Berne through 2001. After her maternal aunt Ko Yong Suk defected to the west in 2001, Kim Yo Jong was removed from school in Switzerland and returned to the DPRK. She completed her secondary and university education in her home country. In 2004 her mother, Ko Yong Hui, passed away due to a recurrence of breast cancer. In addition to Korean, she speaks some English and German. When she was in her late teens, Kim Yo Jong expressed an interest in politics and DPRK political culture to her father, something about which he proudly discussed with foreign interlocutors. In 2008, she was a constant presence at Kim Jong Il’s hospital bedside after he suffered two strokes. Kim Yo Jong was groomed for a role in the country’s political affairs by her paternal aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, and her husband Jang Song Taek, and she began working in the Party Central Committee in 2009.