Daily US Times: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has delegated more responsibilities to his sister Kim Yo-jong and some other aides, South Korea’s spy agency said.
The spy agency reportedly said that Mr Kim still maintains “absolute authority”, but handed various policy areas to others to reduce his stress levels.
The National Intelligence Service added Ms Kim is now “steering overall state affairs”.
However, South Korea’s spy agency has been wrong about North Korea in the past.
The claims were made during a closed-door briefing on Thursday to South Korea’s National Assembly and later, lawmakers discussed the assessment with journalists.
The agency was quoted as saying: “Kim Jong-un is still maintaining his absolute authority, but some of it has been handed over little by little.”
Ms Kim now has responsibility for Pyongyang’s policy towards South Korea and the US, among other policy issues, and is “the de-facto number two leader,” it added, although the agency stressed that Mr Kim had “not selected a successor.”
It said Mr Kim’s decision to delegate was in part to “relieve stress from his reign and avert culpability in the event of policy failure”.
However, some analysts have been skeptical of the intelligence, with website NKNews, known for news of North Korea, noting that she appeared to have missed two important meetings this month, leading to speculation from some observers that she may have been demoted.
Who is Kim Yo-jong?
Kim Yo-jong is the younger sister of the North Korean leader and the only one of his siblings considered a close and powerful ally.
She was born in 1987 and is four years younger than Mr Kim. Both of them lived and studied in Bern, Switzerland, at the same time.
In 2018, Ms Kim first gained international attention when she was the first member of the Kim dynasty to visit South Korea. She was part of the delegation to the Winter Olympics, where North and South competed as a joint team.
She also worked alongside her brother at international summits, including his meetings with China’s Xi Jinping, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service may have more intelligence on the North, one of the world’s most secretive societies, than most other organisations, but it has still had a mixed record.
For example, in 2016, South Korean media cited a similar briefing by the spy agency in which it was said that Ri Yong-gil, the chief of staff of the North Korean army, had been executed, but three months later, he appeared to be alive and his name had appeared on a list of party officials.
The spy agency also admitted in 2017 that it tried to manipulate the result of the 2012 presidential election in the South.