By ISABEL VAN BRUGEN
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has reportedly handed part of his authority to his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, and some close aides, South Korea’s spy agency said on Aug. 20.
The National Intelligence Service (NIS) said during a closed-door briefing to South Korean lawmakers Thursday that the dictator is delegating responsibilities to officials including his sister, who is now involved in leading dealings with Washington and Seoul.
“Currently, Kim Yo Jong, the first vice department director of the Workers’ Party Central Committee, is steering overall state affairs based on the delegation,” South Korea’s intelligence agency was quoted as saying in the briefing to the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee.
“Chairman Kim Jong Un is still maintaining his absolute authority, but some of it has been handed over little by little,” the agency said. “Yo Jong is the de-facto No. 2 leader, but [the North Korean leader] has not selected a successor.”
Other changes made include the handing over of power in the economic sector to Pak Pong Ju, vice chairman of the State Affairs Commission, and the new premier Kim Tok Hun, the NIS said.
Choe Pu Il, the party’s department director for military affairs, and Ri Pyong Chol, vice chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission have been given partial authority over the military, according to the agency.
The NIS said the power-sharing arrangement appears to be aimed at “alleviating leadership strain and dividing responsibility for failed policies.”
Lawmaker Ha Tae-keung paraphrased NIS officials as saying there are “no problems” with Kim Jong Un’s health. Earlier this year, there was frequent speculation about Kim’s health after he missed the April 15 commemorative event for his grandfather, North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung. Kim had attended every one of those annual celebrations since he took power in 2011.
When rumors and speculation arose in April about the North Korean leader’s health, his sister was seen as a possible placeholder to take over the family dynasty until one of Kim’s children is old enough.
Kim Yo Jong, believed to be in her early 30s, has been absent, however, from several recent high-level meetings, such as a plenary gathering of the ruling Workers’ Party on Wednesday, said NK News, a Seoul-based website that tracks North Korea.
The NIS said Thursday that the North Korean leader has, as of Aug. 20, made 132 public appearances this year—down 65 percent from the same timeframe last year. The agency said Kim is prioritizing party sessions over public on-site visits.
Reuters contributed to this report.