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Roy Calley was speaking after a South Korean politician suggested Kim Yo-jong is now “de facto second-in-command”. The 32-year-old, who has pictured alongside the Supreme Leader on numerous occasions, is thought to occupy an increasingly central role, having been appointed to North Korea’s Politburo earlier this year.
Mr Calley, whose book, whose book, Look With Your Eyes and Tell the World, tells of his numerous visits to the Hermit State, told Express.co.uk: “I think this is quite significant as it’s clear she is now emerging as the natural successor.”
Speaking of her famously portly brother, he added: “Kim Jong-un has never been a healthy man and I can’t imagine he’s allowed this to happen naturally.
“North Korea is very much a male dominated society, so it’s inconceivable that he would effectively hand over certain aspects of his leadership.
“If he is still alive then he is becoming weak.
“I think there may be a change of leadership in the near future.”
Dr James Hoare, a research associate with the Japan and Korea Section at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and a former career diplomat, was more cautious in his assessment.
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He told Express.co.uk: “If true – and the ROK NIS (Republic of Korea National Intelligence Service) has been wrong about the North in the past – it would fit in with the idea that she is trusted by her brother and that as a woman, she is not a threat.
“Both Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il seemed to place considerable trust in women, for the same reason.
“In the latter’s case, it was also his sister Kim Kyong-hui, although his last secretary, Kim-ok, also played an important role.”
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Ha Tae-keung, who sits on the South Korean Parliament’s intelligence committee, was speaking after a behind-closed doors intelligence briefing.
He told reporters: “The bottom line is that Kim Jong-un still holds absolute power, but has turned over a bit more of his authority compared to the past.
“Kim Yo-jong is a de facto second-in-command.”
Kim Yo-jong hit the headlines earlier this year after she launched a vitriolic attack on South Korea, urging its government to stop propaganda leaflets coming across the border.
She told the official KNCA news agency: “If such an act of evil intention committed before our eyes is left to take its own course under the pretext of ‘freedom of individuals’ and ‘freedom of expression’, the South Korean authorities must face the worst phase shortly.
“Clearly speaking, the South Korean authorities will be forced to pay a dear price if they let this situation go on while making sort of excuses.”
Kim Jong-un’s health has been the subject of intense speculation for months, especially after he was not seen in public for more than a fortnight in April, prompting speculation he had died as a result of botched cardiac surgery.
Speaking earlier this month, Ruth Ann Monti, whose book, North Korea in 100 Facts, was published last year, said: “He’s certainly a candidate for heart attack, stroke, cancer, you name it.
“He’s had gout, broken bones in his feet, and I would assume is diabetic.
“He’s actually been seen getting support from his sister and aides to walk!”
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