The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made her first appearance in state media since July, an absence that had fuelled speculation her power was clipped after she led a contentious pressure campaign against South Korea.
Kim Yo Jong joined her brother and a handful of other top cadres on a tour to inspect reconstruction work to repair damage caused by massive flooding in recent weeks, the state’s Korean Central News Agency reported.
Kim Yo Jong saw her profile rise among political analysts as the likely successor to her brother when a prolonged absence in April raised questions about his health. She was last mentioned in state media when she joined her brother on an inspection tour of a chicken farm, which included a glimpse in state media of her picking up a cigarette butt from her brother.
“The listing of the accompanying officials in today’s report indicates that she has not been demoted,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee, an independent political analyst who used to work for the US government in areas related to North Korea.
Kim Yo Jong’s status rose in the first part of the year where she was a key player on policies toward the country’s two biggest adversaries, the US and South Korea. A leading South Korean newspaper, the Chosun, reported in recent days that she might even visit President Donald Trump before the presidential election in a show of support.
Kim Yo Jong led a series of threats and provocations against South Korea that culminated with Pyongyang in June blowing up a joint liaison office north of the border built in 2018 as a symbol of reconciliation between the two countries still technically at war. Just as soon as it looked like more was on the way, her brother reversed course in late June and halted plans to step up provocations.
In July, she issued a message saying that North Korea had no intention of holding a meeting with Trump, calling on him to change his policy of applying sanctions against the state. After that, she was conspicuously absent from two key meetings in August of the ruling Workers’ Party, raising speculation that she had fallen out of favor.
“We will never know what happened during her latest two-month absence, but I do not believe she was punished,” said Lee, who added it would be unthinkable for a national campaign like the one against South Korea to be launched and executed without the top leader’s approval.
Choosing a woman to deliver pointed messages is notable for the Kim family, which has ruled the male-dominated society since the 1940s. Kim Yo Jong has become the highest-ranking female member of the family, and a rare sibling allowed to stay in a prominent position or even get mentioned in state media.
Siblings have often not fared well in North Korea. Kim Jong Un has been accused of ordering the murder of his older half-brother and most serious rival, Kim Jong Nam, in 2017. Former leader Kim Jong Il’s brother was found drowned when they were children and his half-brother was effectively exiled for decades.