Kim Jong-un’s sister is flexing her muscle

Remember all of that hopeful talk about a potential reunification of the Korean peninsula in conjunction with the disarmament negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang? Yeah… it looks like that’s probably not a thing anymore. In what will surely spark yet another round of speculation about what’s going on inside of Kim Jong-un’s government, his sister, Kim Yo Jong, has apparently been handed the responsibility for their country’s negotiations with Soth Korean President Moon Jae-in. So what was her first move in that delicate diplomatic dance? She canceled the daily briefings and threatened military action against them. It’s the classic iron fist in a velvet glove approach, only without the glove. (Associated Press)

The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened military action against South Korea as she bashed Seoul on Saturday over declining bilateral relations and its inability to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.

Describing South Korea as an “enemy,” Kim Yo Jong repeated an earlier threat she had made by saying Seoul will soon witness the collapse of a “useless” inter-Korean liaison office in the border town of Kaesong.

Kim, who is first vice department director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, said she would leave it to North Korea’s military leaders to carry out the next step of retaliation against the South.

When the major complaint you can come up with as an excuse for threatening military action is pamphlets blowing across the border, you probably weren’t all that serious about a peace deal to begin with. Of course, even if we’re completely reverting back to the conditions we were accustomed to in the pre-Trump negotiations era, North Korea always threatens military action against somebody, but they don’t deliver on it. Looked at in that context, it’s a fairly safe bet that this is just the usual saber-rattling that always comes out of Pyongyang.

The real difference here is who is issuing the threats. It’s long been known that Kim’s sister was one of his more influential advisers, but she’s traditionally remained in the background. Now her brother has appointed her as second in command of the Workers’ Party’s Central Committee and put her in charge of negotiating with the South. That puts her much more in the spotlight and establishes her position in any potential line of succession should the need arise.

It’s a good bet that Kim Jong-un is doing this precisely for that reason. Rumor’s about the dictator’s poor health continue to swirl and the order of succession remains one of the big questions. With none of his children being old enough to take power, the dictator’s sister might not have been accepted as a legitimate ruler by some of the country’s warlords if he were to suddenly die or disappear. (They’re generally not used to any sort of matriarchal power structure.) And a power vacuum could lead to the sort of internecine battles that could implode and totally destabilize the nation. It’s possible that Kim Jong-un is promoting his sister’s involvement in leadership as a way of getting everyone used to the idea of a woman in a position of power and settle the issue of succession.

South Korea is taking a very passive role in these recent developments. Moon Jae-in has already promised to prosecute the North Korean defectors who are sending pamphlets over the border, but neither Kim nor his sister seems to be in a mood to listen. The other possibility to consider is that this is all an effort to put pressure on President Trump to serve up some major concessions. Good luck with that, though. Trump typically doesn’t respond well to threats, and I don’t expect him to cave to this maneuver.

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