Will a Woman Run North Korea? Kim’s Sister Outshines Male Rivals

Of all the family members who could eventually take the reins from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, his sister seems like the obvious choice.

Kim Yo Jong, in her early 30s, has been by her brother’s side at summits with U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, sat behind Vice President Mike Pence while representing North Korea at the 2018 Winter Olympics and became the first immediate member of the ruling family to visit Seoul, where she delivered a personal message from her brother inviting South Korean President Moon Jae-in to a summit.

The biggest potential hang-up: She’s a woman in a society rigidly controlled by men. While many North Korea watchers say bloodline is more important than gender, others are skeptical.

“Yo Jong’s role will likely be limited to a regent at most” due to North Korea’s feudal patriarchy, said Yoo Ho-yeol, who teaches North Korean studies at Korea University and formerly advised South Korea’s unification ministry and defense ministry. “Not only the male-dominant leadership, but also ordinary people there would resist a female leader.”

The question of whether Kim Yo Jong will become North Korea’s first woman leader has suddenly become front and center as questions about her brother’s health intensify. Kim Jong Un hasn’t appeared in state media in two weeks, prompting a flurry of reports suggesting he could be incapacitated.

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