Closeness of North Korea's power siblings on display

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is assisted by his sister Kim Yo Jong as he signs documents at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in South Korea, on April 27, 2018.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is assisted by his sister Kim Yo Jong as he signs documents at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in South Korea, on April 27, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un walks with South Korea's President Moon Jae In, followed by Kim's sister and close adviser Kim Yo Jong, to the official summit Peace House building for their meeting at Panmunjom on April 27, 2018.
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un walks with South Korea's President Moon Jae In, followed by Kim's sister and close adviser Kim Yo Jong, to the official summit Peace House building for their meeting at Panmunjom on April 27, 2018.PHOTO: AFP
South Korea's President Moon Jae In attends the Inter-Korean summit with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong in the Peace House building on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom on April 27, 2018.
South Korea's President Moon Jae In attends the Inter-Korean summit with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong in the Peace House building on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom on April 27, 2018.PHOTO: AFP
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un prepares to write in a guestbook with his sister Kim Yo Jong on April 27, 2018.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un prepares to write in a guestbook with his sister Kim Yo Jong on April 27, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS
Kim Yo Jong assists North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as he plants a commemorative tree at the Joint Security Area (JSA) on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) with  South Korean President Moon Jae In in the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, o
Kim Yo Jong assists North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as he plants a commemorative tree at the Joint Security Area (JSA) on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) with South Korean President Moon Jae In in the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, on April 27, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

GOYANG (South Korea) • Everywhere North Korean leader Kim Jong Un goes, his younger sister Yo Jong follows.

The closeness between the siblings was on full display yesterday, when Mr Kim's meeting with the South's President Moon Jae In in Panmunjom was beamed live to the world.

Ms Kim, a rising political star, was part of the entourage that accompanied Mr Kim to the regime's third summit with the South since their division due to the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Best known for charming the world with her dazzling smile at the recent Pyeongchang Winter Olympics held in the South in February, Ms Kim was seen shadowing her brother's every move yesterday.

She was watching him like a hawk when he was inspecting the honour guard with President Moon.

She was also there to give her brother a pen to sign a guest book at the Peace House on South Korea's side of the Military Demarcation Line dividing the two Koreas, and to hand him gloves for the tree-planting ceremony. She was also seen copying notes diligently as the two leaders gave opening remarks.

And, she was said to have blushed when Mr Moon, in a light-hearted moment, quipped that she has virtually attained "celebrity status" in the South since she became the face of Pyongyang's charm offensive.

Analysts said not only is Ms Kim the brains behind her brother's coming-out party, but she is also gaining political clout of her own.

Since making her first public appearance at her father Kim Jong Il's funeral in 2011, she has taken on an increasingly public role shaping the regime's propaganda efforts and playing adviser to her brother.

In fact, she was the first in the Kim dynasty to visit Seoul for the Winter Games - as part of North Korea's overtures since January to woo the South into dialogue.

"She is not only the 'stage master', but also Kim's chief secretary in an informal sense," Sejong Institute research fellow Lee Seong Hyon told The Straits Times. "She is someone who grew up... with Kim abroad and someone Kim feels safe (with)."

Sogang University's international relations professor Kim Jae Chun said the North Korean leader has "absolute trust" in his sister.

At 30, she is four years younger than her brother. But "she's the one giving him advice", noted Prof Kim.

Mr Michael Madden, a North Korean leadership expert and visiting scholar at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, told ST that Ms Kim is a "major power player" in the regime's contingency succession plans. "Her public profile domestically and in going to the Olympic ceremony was intended to signal her level of power and influence in the country. While it is premature to say so now, Kim Yo Jong is the next leader of North Korea."

Chang May Choon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2018, with the headline 'Closeness of North Korea's power siblings on display'. Print Edition | Subscribe