Wednesday 24 January 2018

Kim promotes younger sister to powerful new role in N Korea

Kim Yo-jong, sister of Kim Jong-un, is rarely seen in public.
Kim Yo-jong, sister of Kim Jong-un, is rarely seen in public.

James Pearson

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un has promoted his sister to his powerful politburo committee, tightening his family's grip on the reins of power.

Kim Yo-jong was made a member of the politburo - North Korea's top decision-making body over which Mr Kim presides.

Alongside Mr Kim himself, the promotion makes Ms Kim the only other millennial member of the influential body.

Her new position indicates the 28-year-old has become a replacement for Mr Kim's aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, who had been a key decision maker when former leader Kim Jong-il was alive.

"It shows that her portfolio and writ is far more substantive than previously believed and it is a further consolidation of the Kim family's power," said Michael Madden, a North Korea expert at Johns Hopkins University's 38 North website.

In January, the US Treasury blacklisted Ms Kim along with other North Korean officials over "severe human rights abuses".

Kim Jong-sik and Ri Pyong Chol, two of the three men behind Mr Kim's banned rocket programme, were also promoted.

State media announced that several other high-ranking cadres were promoted to the Central Committee, in what the South Korean unification ministry said could be an attempt by North Korea to navigate a way through its increasing isolation.

"The large-scale personnel reshuffle reflects that Kim Jong-un is taking the current situation seriously, and that he's looking for a breakthrough by promoting a new generation of politicians," the ministry said in a statement.

North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, who named Donald Trump "President Evil" in a bombastic speech to the UN General Assembly last month, was promoted to full vote-carrying member of the politburo.

Meanwhile, Mr Kim insisted in a speech to his ruling party that the country's nuclear weapons were a "powerful deterrent" that guaranteed its sovereignty.

The comments came hours after Mr Trump said "only one thing will work" in dealing with the isolated country.

Mr Trump did not make clear to what he was referring, but his comments seemed to be a further suggestion that military action was on his mind.

In a speech to a meeting of the powerful Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party, state media said Mr Kim had addressed the "complicated international situation".

North Korea's nuclear weapons are a "powerful deterrent firmly safeguarding the peace and security in the Korean peninsula and north-east Asia," Mr Kim said, referring to the "protracted nuclear threats of the US imperialists".

In recent weeks, North Korea has launched two missiles over Japan and conducted its sixth nuclear test, and may be fast advancing toward its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US mainland.

North Korea is preparing to test-launch such a missile, a Russian lawmaker who had just returned from a visit to Pyongyang said on Friday.

Mr Trump has previously said the US would "totally destroy" North Korea if necessary to protect itself and its allies.

The situation proved that North Korea's policy of "byungjin", meaning the parallel development of nuclear weapons and the economy was "absolutely right", Mr Kim said in the speech.

"The national economy has grown on their strength this year, despite the escalating sanctions," said Mr Kim, referring to UN Security Council resolutions put in place to curb Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes.

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