Is Kim Jong-un's Sister, Kim Yo-jong, Running North Korea In His Mysterious Absence?

It's been more than a month since North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un's last public appearance. In the last 36 days, rumors have swirled, increasing in bizarre factor with each absent day — gout, diabetes, ankle problems, cheese-induced illness, etc. But the latest theory has nothing to do with his health. A group of defectors claim that Kim Jong-un's sister Kim Yo-jong is now in charge of the dictatorship, at least temporarily while Kim recuperates, or finishes whatever it is he's been doing on his hiatus.

The claim comes from the North Korea Intellectuals' Solidarity, a Seoul-based advocacy think tank started by former North Korean professors. The group has not revealed its source, so it's just an allegation at this point, but one that makes sense.

According to Michael Madden, who tracks the country's officials with his North Korea Leadership Watch blog, Kim Yo-jong is one of the few people known to have "unfettered direct access" to the supreme leader, and Madeen speculates that she may currently be his "sole gatekeeper."

The sister theory comes amid some more serious theories that a coup may be imminent. On Saturday, three elite North Korean officials made an appearance at the closing ceremony of the Asian Games in South Korea, one of which was Organization and Guidance Department (OGD) member Hwang Pyong-so. The OGD has long been rumored to be the puppet masters of Kim's regime, only allowing the portly leader to be a symbolic figurehead for the sake of continuing the Kim dynasty. Hwang's appearance only further suggests that the OGD have seized control of the regime.

But if video evidence of Kim limping is any indication, the dictator is likely recovering from whatever mysterious "discomfort" he's been experiencing, and little sis is making sure things still get done, as little sisters often do.

Who Is Kim Yo-Jong?

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While Kim has a half-sister, whom his father, Kim Jong-il had with another wife, Kim Yo-jong is his only full sister. Four years younger at age 27, Kim Yo-jong reportedly joined her brother for elementary school in Switzerland from 1996 to 2000. Currently, she is an official in Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), North Korea's ruling political party. According to North Korea Leadership Watch, Kim Yo-jong works as her brother's personal aide and manages his itineraries, public events, and logistical needs. Sounds like a hybrid of manager, publicist, and personal assistant.

Kim Yo-Jong's Emergence

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The North Korea Leadership Watch notes her first public appearance in September 2010, when she attended a photocall for participants of the 3rd Korean Workers’ Party Conference, where she stood among her father's staff. By the following year, she was a regular member of her father's entourage, and at Kim Jong-il's funeral in December 2011, state media revealed her leading senior party officials in bowing at the casket.

Before his death, Kim Jong-il included a "significant and unknown" role for Kim Yo-jong in his succession planning. Madden described her duties under the KJI regime to CNN, calling her an "advance-team leader" who inspected sites before official visits and performed administrative duties. Now, Madden says, she has taken on even more responsibility as a regular fixture by Kim Jong-un's side, receiving intelligence briefings and contributing to policy. In fact, Madden believes that she played a large part in planning the three officials' trip to the Asian Games in South Korea. If true, this would suggest that the Kim dynasty is still perfectly intact, and a coup is just one of the many wild theories.Images: Getty Images (2)