US Treasury imposed sanctions on Kim Yo Jong after she was blacklisted for her role in the regime’s ‘severe human rights abuses’ © EPA
The elevation of Kim Yo Jong, Mr Kim’s 28-year-old sibling, to the politburo comes amid a broader reshuffle ahead of an anniversary on Tuesday that some expect could be used as a stage for further provocations.
Kim Jong Sik and Ri Pyong Chol, two key individuals behind Pyongyang’s increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile programme, were also promoted. As was Ri Yong Ho, North Korea’s foreign minister, who made headlines last month for saying a tweet by US President Donald Trump amounted to a declaration of war.
The move to bring in Ms Kim as an alternate member of the ruling Workers’ party of Korea politburo reflects Kim Jong Un’s desire to cement his family’s power, although it is unlikely she would ever succeed the North Korea leader given the country’s strict patriarchy. She was previously vice-director of the Workers’ party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department.
In January, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on Ms Kim after she was blacklisted for her role in the regime’s “severe human rights abuses”.
The changes were made during a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling party on Saturday, the state-run KCNA news agency reported.
Mr Kim used a speech at the meeting to defend his nation’s rapidly developing nuclear weapons programme, saying it acted as a “powerful deterrent firmly safeguarding the peace and security in the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia”.
The comments were published on Sunday just hours after Mr Trump once again appeared to threaten North Korea with the use of military force.
“Only one thing will work,” the US president tweeted after deriding efforts by former US administrations to engage diplomatically with North Korea.
The vague comments were just the latest by Mr Trump, who a day earlier told media that the present situation was the “calm before the storm”.
North Korea has dominated the US’s foreign policy agenda this year after testing multiple ballistic missiles as well as a nuclear device last month.
The nation is now widely believed to possess intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities and is shortly expected to master the technology necessary to equip these rockets with nuclear warheads. Some US intelligence officials think Pyongyang has already accomplished this. On Tuesday, the totalitarian regime will celebrate the anniversary of the founding of its Workers’ party — an occasion that officials in Seoul fear may be used to launch more missiles.
“The government is closely monitoring the situation, given the possibility of North Korea’s provocations around the party anniversary. But there has been no specific sign of provocative acts,” South Korea’s state-run Yonhap news agency quoted an official from the presidential Blue House as saying.