Kim Yo-jong
Photo: Jorge Silva/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Kim Yo-jong Biography

(1987–)
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Kim Yo-jong is the younger sister of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and a high-ranking official of the Workers' Party of Korea.

Who Is Kim Yo-jong?

Kim Yo-jong is the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. She joined the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in 2007, eventually serving as secretariat to her father, Kim Jong-il, until his death in 2011. Kim Yo-jong continued to ascend her party's ranks under her brother's rule, taking control of his image as first vice-department director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department and later becoming an alternate member of the WPK's powerful politburo. After making a highly publicized appearance at the 2018 Winter Olympics, Kim joined her brother for his denuclearization summits with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Early Life and Education

Kim Yo-jong's birthdate is listed as September 26, 1987. She spent her early years at her mother's Ch’angkwang Hill residence in central Pyongyang with her two older brothers. According to family chef Kenji Fujimoto, the family would celebrate her birthdays at another home in Wonsan.

In 1996, Kim was sent to Switzerland to continue her education. She began attending Liebefeld Hessgut public school and later was joined by Kim Jong-un at Liebefeld-Steinhölzli public school, the two enrolled under pseudonyms. Although they lived with an aunt and uncle and were served by a staff of housekeepers and bodyguards, the time abroad was said to be an isolating experience that drew the siblings closer together.

Virtually nothing is known about Kim Yo-jong's activities in the years that followed her return to North Korea in 2000 or 2001, though she reportedly graduated from Pyongyang's Kim Il-sung University in 2007 with a computer science degree.

Family

Sister of Kim Jong-un

Kim Yo-jong is the younger sister of Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, and reportedly one of his closest aides. As first vice-department director of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) Propaganda and Agitation Department, she is said to be in charge of managing her brother's image and promoting the "charm offensive" that marked his outreach to South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump, even as he continued to threaten his enemies with nuclear attacks.

When reports of Kim Jong-un's poor health surfaced in April 2020, the media focused on Kim Yo-jong as a possible successor. Some analysts suggested that she is the most likely choice to follow her brother, given her ties to the "Paektu" bloodline that the family claims for divine ruling rights, while others argued that the male-dominated WPK would prefer a collective leadership.

Daughter of Kim Jong-il

Kim Yo-jong is the youngest child of North Korea's second leader, Kim Jong-il, and his consort Ko Yong-hui, a Japanese Korean dancer. Along with Kim Jong-un, the couple had an older son, Kim Jong-chul, while Kim Yo-jong also has a half-sister, Kim Sol-song. Another half-sibling, Kim Jong-nam, was killed in Malaysia in 2017, allegedly at the Supreme Leader's behest.

Father's Death and Rise to Leadership

Appointed a junior cadre to the WKP in 2007, Kim Yo-jong reportedly was involved in succession plans after Kim Jong-il suffered a pair of strokes the following year and took on an increasing role as her father's secretariat until his death in December 2011.

Said to have been groomed for public service by her aunt Kim Kyong-hui, Kim Yo-jong replaced her aunt as one of the leading female figures of the ruling party following the execution of Kim Kyong-hui's husband, Jang Song-thaek, in late 2013.

Under her brother's rule, Kim became acting director of the National Defense Commission before earning her appointment to the Propaganda and Agitation Department in late 2014. She became an alternate member of the WPK's political bureau three years later, and was voted to the Supreme People's Assembly as a representative for the Killimgil district in the 2019 parliamentary election.

Underscoring her prominence in the WPK, Kim issued her first orders to the all-female units of the Korean People’s Army in late 2019. The following March, she released her first public statement in defense of policy, chastising South Korea for their complaints about North Korea's military exercises.

2018 Olympics

The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, marked the coming-out party for Kim, the highest-ranking member of the North Korean ruling family to visit the southern country since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Serving as her brother's envoy, if not the official head of the North Korean delegation, she drew attention for her meetings with President Moon, and for her strategic placement behind U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at the Olympics' opening ceremony.

Summits with Donald Trump

Kim Yo-jong accompanied her brother to his high-profile denuclearization talks with President Trump, the first held in Singapore in June 2018 and the second in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February 2019. After the two sides abruptly ended negotiations during the latter summit, Kim Jong-un reportedly blamed his sister for the failure and had her removed from the politburo, before reinstating her in April 2020.

Controversies

For her leadership role in the Propaganda and Agitation Department, Kim was among the seven North Koreans sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury in early 2017 for "serious human rights abuses and censorship activities." She is also rumored to be involved with the shadowy Office 39, tasked with raising funds for the Supreme Leader.

Husband and Children

In early 2015, it was reported that Kim Yo-jong had married Choe Song, son of Kim Jong-un lieutenant Choe Ryong-hae. She was reported to be pregnant in spring 2015, and again around the time of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

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