YOSUKE ONCHI, Nikkei staff writer
SEOUL — Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, is now in charge of one of the country’s most important political bodies, according to South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo.
Kim Yo Jong has de facto leadership of the Organization and Guidance Department, which controls information flows and appointments within the ruling Workers’ Party, Jeong said in a parliamentary briefing Tuesday.
South Korean officials have issued bits of intelligence on affairs across the Demilitarized Zone in recent weeks amid speculation that ill health has left Kim Jong Un incapacitated.
“Chairman Kim Jong Un still holds power, but has delegated some roles and responsibilities to those under him,” Jeong said.
The Organization and Guidance Department occupies a central place in North Korea’s opaque power structure. Kim Jong Un’s father, former leader Kim Jong Il, is said to have held the department’s chair in addition to his other posts.
There have been reports that Kim Yo Jong had moved to the department from the party’s propaganda unit, but South Korea had not officially commented on the topic before Tuesday. She was said in June to have been put in charge of relations with South Korea. In North Korean official sources, she is reported only as first vice department director of the Workers’ Party Central Committee.
Earlier this month, a South Korean opposition party lawmaker said that Kim Yo Jong was serving as her brother’s “de facto second-in-command.”
South Korean intelligence believes Kim Jong Un is delegating more power to ease the burden on himself. Some view it as a way to distance himself from criticism as the North Korean economy suffers from protracted sanctions, the coronavirus pandemic and flooding.
Meanwhile, Kim Jong Un appears to be trying to strengthen his grip on the military. He set up a new body within the Workers’ Party that oversees the armed forces at the end of 2019, South Korea’s intelligence agency reported to parliament.