Who is Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea’s leader? 5 things to know

What you need to know: Kim Yo Jong

Kim Yo Jong, like many members of the ruling Kim dynasty in North Korea, is a mysterious figure outside of her native country. Some of her biographical details are sketchy at best. As the sister of Kim Jung Un, she pushed North Korean propaganda and was a staunch defender of her brother.

With reports about her brother’s health ramping up this week -- some news outlets have reported minor procedures, while others said Kim Jung Un was “gravely ill.” Some outlets even reported the North Korean leader had died. None of the reports have been verified. But if the North Korean leader is incapacitated or dead, his sister could be a force to reckon with in the country’s future.

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Feared for her power, Kim Yo Jong has been nicknamed the “Ivanka Trump of North Korea, according to The Washington Post. She was named an alternate member of the North Korean politburo earlier this month. Bloomberg reported.

Here are some things to know:

How old is she? Kim Yo Jong is the youngest child and only daughter of Kim Jong Il and his consort, Japanese-Korean dancer Ko Yong Hui, according to The Washington Post. Her actual birthdate is in dispute. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, she was born in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Sept. 26, 1989. The Treasury Department released that date when it blacklisted her for human rights abuses in 2019. However, South Korea’s intelligence service said she was born in 1987. Biography.com also lists her birthdate as Sept. 26, 1987.

Early years: Kim Yo Jong lived with her two older brothers -- including Kim Jong Un -- at her mother’s residence in central Pyongyang, according to Biography.com. In 1996 she enrolled at the Liebefeld-Steinhölzli public school in Bern, Switzerland, the Post reported. She used the alias Pak Mi Hyang while in Switzerland, according to the newspaper. She was a favorite of her father and reportedly took ballet classes while in school, the Post reported.

Rise to power: Kim Yo Jong joined the Workers’ Party of Korea in 2007, according to Biography.com. She eventually served as secretariat to her father until he died in 2011. With her brother in power, Kim Yo Jong took control of his image as the first vice-department director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department. Not one to mince words, she recently called South Korea a “frightened dog barking” for complaining about a live-fire military demonstration by the state, The Guardian reported.

Winter Olympics: By attending the Winter Olympics in 2018, Kim Yo Jong became the first member of the ruling Kim family to cross into South Korea since the Korean War truce in 1953. She served as her brother’s envoy for the North Korean delegation and met with South Korean President Moon Jae In. She also was seated behind Vice President Mike Pence during the Olympics’ opening ceremony.

“Flashing a sphinx-like smile and without ever speaking in public,” Kim Yo Jong managed to outflank Pence in “the game of diplomatic image-making,” The New York Times reported in 2018.

Quotes about her: “She is smart, calculating, and who knows how much power she has been able to build working in the shadows?” North Korean expert Bruce Bennett said in a Daily Beast article cited by Forbes magazine.

“Among the North’s power elite, Kim Yo Jong has the highest chance to inherit power, and I think that possibility is more than 90%,” an analyst told The Associated Press.

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Kim Yo Jong rocketed to stardom with her appearance at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Kim Yo Jong rocketed to stardom with her appearance at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Jorge Silva/Pool via Bloomberg)