North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un is “in a coma” according to Changon Song-min, a former aide to South Korea’s late president, as reported by DNA. On August 23, Chang said the while Kim is not dead, his sister, Kim Yo Jong, 32, is already being groomed to take over as leader.
While CNN reported on August 21, that Kim’s younger sister was given partial authority to oversee “general state affairs” in order to ease the leader’s workload, there was no information linking that decision to Kim’s health. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) said that Kim’s decision to transfer more power to his sister further bolstered the argument that she is now the country’s “de-facto second in command.”
However, according to the office of Representative Kim Byung-kee, who attended the NIS briefing on Wednesday, Kim, 36, is still the ultimate authority and will continue to exercise “absolute power” as North Korea’s leader.
Chang, who said he received the latest update on Kim’s health from a source in China, claims that recent photos of Kim released to the North Korean media were fake. “I assess him to be in a coma, but his life has not ended,” Chang said in an interview with South Korean media. A complete succession structure has not been formed, so Kim Yo Jong is being brought to the fore as the vacuum cannot be maintained for a prolonged period.”
False Reports That Kim Jong Un Died Swirled Online Back in April
Amid a lack of public appearances, on April 12, it was reported that Kim underwent heart surgery and was in a “vegetative state” as a result of a stent procedure gone awry. At the time, North Korea did not acknowledge these reports or comment on their leader’s health.
On April 21, CNN reported that Kim was “gravely ill, while an MSNBC reporter tweeted apparent news of Kim being brain dead, which had claimed two U.S. officials as sources for the information, but then deleted the tweet.
On April 24, a Reuters report cited “three people familiar with the situation” for its report that China had dispatched a medical team to North Korea to check in on the Supreme Leader’s health, but was “unable to immediately determine what the trip by the Chinese team signaled in terms of Kim’s health.”
However, the rumors were dispelled after Kim made a public appearance on May 1. NK News reported that Kim arrived with his sister, along with numerous other North Korean officials, to the Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory to celebrate International Labor Day. He was photographed smiling at the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Would Kim Yo Jong Take Over as Leader if Kim Died?
Daughter of Kim Jong Il and Ko Yong Hui, Kim Yo Jong is believed to be the youngest of seven siblings, born in 1987, and considered a “favored member” of the family. She is a trusted advisor to Kim and in 2018 was nominated to North Korea’s politburo.
Kim Yo Jong is largely credited for creating her big brother’s public image, following the trends of fellow dictators around the world. While she briefly lost some of her power in 2019 after negotiations with President Trump fell through in Hanoi, she has since earned her way back to being the most powerful woman in North Korea.
According to the Washington Examiner, “North Korean experts are also divided on whether a woman could ever take command. After all, North Korea is very traditional, and it would be very hard for other Pyongyang elites to accept her as supreme leader. It is very probable that she would be pushed aside once her brother has an old enough male heir.”