North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reportedly gave his sister, Kim Yo-jong, more responsibilities last week, according to South Korea's spy agency. The report surfaced before a South Korean official claimed Kim was now in a coma. Kim's health is constantly at the center of speculation, with reports that he was either in a vegetative state or possibly dead surfacing in April. He turned out to be very much alive, as Pyongyang released photos of him making a public appearance on May 1. Kim made another appearance three weeks later.
On Thursday, South Korea's National Intelligence Service reportedly told lawmakers in Seoul that Yo-jung is "steering overall state affairs based on the delegation" of some of Kim's responsibilities, according to the Yonhap News Agency. The move is an attempt to "relieve (Kim's) stress from his reign and avert culpability in the event of policy failure," the NIS said, layer stressing that Kim is "still maintaining his absolute authority, but some of it has been handed over little by little."
Yo-jung is not the only senior member of North Korea's Workers' Party now sharing some powers with Kim, the NIS said. State Affairs Commission Vice Chairman Pak Pong-ju and new Premier Kim Tok-hun took over some economic powers, the agency said. The NIS said the Yongbyon nuclear complex is not operating and the number of North Korean summer military exercises has decreased.
On Sunday, Chang Song-min, a former aide to the late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, reportedly told South Korean media Kim was now in a coma. "I assess him to be in a coma, but his life has not ended," Chang said, reports The Mirror. "A complete succession structure has not been formed, so Kim Yo-jong is being brought to the fore as the vacuum cannot be maintained for a prolonged period."
Due to the secretive nature of Pyongyang, speculation about Kim's health can run wild until the North Korean government releases new photos of him at public events. Kim, who is thought to be about 36, reportedly underwent a routine surgery to insert a stent in his heart in April, but reports out of China claimed the surgery was "botched" and he died. Later, South Korean and U.S. intelligence said Kim was "alive and well." On May 1, Kim made an appearance at a May Day event, showing he was still alive. Three weeks later, Pyongyang released photos from a meeting with military officials.
Early last week, North Korean state media reported Kim had a meeting with party leaders to discuss a "crucial" issue, Bloomberg reports. It was not clear what the topic of the meeting was. The country has boasted about not having any coronavirus cases, but it was reported last month that officials locked down a border city due to a coronavirus scare. U.S. and Japanese officials both doubt North Korea has zero coronavirus cases.