Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Tsutomu Nishioka

【#757】Behind Demotion of NK Dictator’s Sister

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2021.01.21 (Thu)

January 18, 2021


In the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea convened its eighth congress January 5 through 12. WPK Chairman Kim Jong Un read the party’s activity report over the first three days, emphasizing the completion of a “national nuclear force” as his achievement and declaring further development of nuclear weapons. He vowed to continue the development of multi-warheaded nuclear missiles, solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles and said that a nuclear-powered submarine had already been designed. Defining the United States as the enemy, the North Korean dictator demanded that South Korea cancel joint military drills with the U.S. and the introduction of strategic weapons.

Kim Jong Un also admitted a failure to accomplish his five-year economic plan, criticized WPK cadres for failing to implement the scientific management of the plan, and pledged to enhance the planned economy to pursue regeneration by its own efforts and self-sufficiency.

Kim’s wariness of sister’s rising power

The party congress abolished the post of chairman and executive policy bureau created five years ago and restored that of general secretary and secretariat, institutions of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il era. Kim Jong Un was elected general secretary. His sister Kim Yo Jong was dismissed from an alternate member of the Politburo and demoted from a “first deputy director” of the party to an ordinary “deputy director.”

According to informed sources, the demotion indicated that Kim Jong Un has become alarmed at Kim Yo Jong who has been reputed as his successor or representative and attracted WPK cadres. Viewing a decline in his power as attributable to his title of WPK chairman, Kim Jong Un considered taking up the post of general secretary and replacing the executive policy bureau with the secretariat, the sources said. Kim Yo Jong is said to have opposed Kim Jong Un’s assumption of the title of general secretary as premature.

The sources said the institutions of WPK chairman and executive policy bureau was designed by Politburo member Pak Thae Song, an aide to Kim Yo Jong. Detecting Kim Jong Un’s wariness of Kim Yo Jong, Pak agreed to the abolition of the institutions, according to the sources. Kim Jong Un ordered Kim Yo Jong to take charge of external relations alone without fussing about domestic affairs. Complying with the order, Kim Yo Jong issued a statement denouncing South Korean military in the demoted name of the WPK deputy director. WPK Military Guidance Department Director Choe Pu Il, the closest aide to Kim Yo Jong, was reportedly removed, with the authority of WPK Organization and Guidance Department First Deputy Director Kim Cho Kuk reduced substantially.

Information about a Japan-North Korea summit

Kim Jong Un had planned to propose the dismantlement of some ICBMs in addition to the earlier offer of the full dismantlement of Yongbyon nuclear facilities in exchange for the U.S.’ lifting of sanctions on North Korea if Donald Trump were reelected as U.S. president last November, the informed sources said. The reason Kim Jong Un publicly emphasized the completion of a nuclear-powered submarine design and the continued development of solid-fuel ICBMs and SLBMs was that he was afraid of Biden and concerned that the Biden administration would increase pressure on Pyongyang over human rights issues, they said.

As the WPK failed to launch any reform and opening-up policy at the congress, many party cadres and rural residents are disappointed, questioning how to live. Foreign currency reserve shortages have grown serious, leading Pyongyang to cut pays to zero for diplomats and operatives abroad from October 2019. North Korean diplomats have become unable to pay rent for housing and requested borrowings from their friends or acquaintances in countries where they are stationed, the sources said.

I have been informed that Pyongyang is considering accepting a Japan-North Korea summit as requested by Japan’s Suga administration in a bid to get a sizable sum of foreign currencies, indicating a looming opportunity to rescue Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a senior fellow and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a visiting professor at Reitaku University. He covers South and North Koreas.