Row erupts between Kim Jong-uns wife and sister in North Korea power struggle

A rift has developed between Kim Jong-un’s wife and his sistery, as they grapple for influence in a North Korean power struggle.

Kim Yo-jong, the dictator’s younger sibling, has become prominent in North Korean public life in recent years, and is seen by some as a potential successor.

But speculation about her place has mounted since Kim Ju-ae, the tyrant’s daughter, debuted on regime propaganda in November – leading some experts to think that she is being placed in front of the media as a means of hinting at her succession.

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Recent images of Kim Jong-un and his child at a football match have only added fuel to the flames, showing the duo front and centre alongside North Korea’s top brass in the VIP box.

Yet Kim Yo-jong sits alone at the furthest end of the back row, seen only as a blur in one photo, hidden behind someone else in another, and cropped out of newsreel footage.

Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute said Kim’s daughter’s debut could reveal a “power struggle” between the leader’s sister and his wife, Ri Sol-ju.

Writing in Sisa Journal, a South Korean magazine, he said it was like “Ri Sol-ju warning Kim Yo-jong, ‘the succession of power does not go to you, but to our children, so never look at it.’”

Yoshihiro Makino, a visiting professor at Hiroshima University in Japan, said the pitch-side photos could be meant to signal Kim Yo-jong’s place to other North Korean elites.

He told Radio Free Asia: “Kim Jong-un and Kim Yo-jong are close and, until 2020, there were many photos of the two looking at the same height.

“However, these photos are gradually disappearing. I think the intention is to make it clear that the Kim Jong-un family is the main body and the Kim Yo-jong family is the side branch.”

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Mr Cheong conceded that there was an “overly speculative” aspect to suggestions of a rift.

But North Korea expert Michael Madden said “it is not as outlandish as previous rumours about North Korea’s core elite”.

He said: “The regime has ideological slogans about ‘single-hearted unity’ and we see these people attend public events together like the recent parade.

“But it does not necessarily mean they like each other or that they are even cordial in their interactions. Fraught relationships and tension can thrive among a self-selected and isolated group.”

He continued: “There is a 50-year history of Kim family disputes over the succession issue.

“One reason that we might be seeing Kim Ju-ae is because her mother feels it necessary to raise the succession claim of one of her children now.

“Both Madame Ri and Kim Yo-jong have children who can claim the Paektusan revolutionary lineage of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.”

He added that Kim Jong-un was allegedly picked as his father’s successor when he was just eight years old, “so it would not be premature” for him to pick his young daughter for the top job.

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