Fresh speculation has mounted about the whereabouts of Kim Jong-un’s sister – just weeks after she was said to be poised to assume power in North Korea.
According to reports from the Korean peninsula, Kim Yo-jong has not been seen in public since July 27.
She has been more visible this year, even as her despot brother takes long breaks from the spotlight – prompting claims that his health is failing.
The North Korean dictator has been pictured several times alongside high-ranking officials in recent days, but his sister has been nowhere to be seen.
She has been branded Kim’s “second in command” in the international press, which has prompted concerns that her notoriously vindictive brother may now see her as a threat.
Professor Nam Sung-wook, of Korea University, told The Chosun Ilbo : “In the past, anyone was deprived of their position the moment they were described as the number two person in the North.
“There must be a semblance of checks and balances, although Kim Yo-jong is a family member.”
Prof Nam did say it is possible that Kim Yo-jong has retreated of her own accord.
Kim has little time for rivals, having famously executed highly-regarded offical Jang Song-thaek, his dad’s son-in-law.
Jang was described as North Korea’s de-facto leader when Kim Jong-Il – the current ruler’s father – was ill.
But he disappeared in 2013, when a statement from the North Korean leadership described him as “worse than a dog” who was intent on “grabbing the supreme power by the most cunning a sinister means”.
Unconfirmed reports claim that Jang’s family met the same fate after bloodthirsty Kim decided to clamp down on his rival.
Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, said it is clear that Kim’s sister is being groomed for power.
“The way for her to build up her credibility and net worth, that is, the way for her to get respect, is not to play nice but be a cruel dictator to her people and a credible nuclear threat to the US,” he told the New York Post.
“She may prove herself fiercer and more tyrannical than her brother, father, or grandfather.”