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Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un appeared for the first time since passing considerable powers to his sister, Kim Yo-jong. It came during a crisis meeting where Kim warned the North’s authorities to prepare for the dangers posed to the country by the coronavirus pandemic and a looming typhoon. The country has not yet confirmed any COVID-19 cases and it is thought that an outbreak would devastate the impoverished nation.
Typhoon Bavi is expected to hit North Korea later this week.
Speaking at a meeting of the politburo on Tuesday, Kim, who was smoking a cigarette, said there were “some shortcomings” in the state’s efforts to keep out the “malignant virus”, state media reported, without giving details.
Last week, it was announced that Yo-jong and several of Kim’s aides would assume previously centralised power.
The decision to give Yo-jong responsibilities over diplomacy with South Korea and the US was noted as a particularly salient instance of Kim attempting to cement his family’s dynasty and total control over the North.
Many have claimed that Kim and Yo-jong are hungry for power, with the pair attempting to drive out any outside influence from remaining family members.
Professor Sung-Yoon Lee, a scholar of Korean and East Asian studies and authority on North Korea, in an op-ed for the New York Times claimed that Kim’s other brother, Kim Pyong-il, could be next on the dictatorship’s disappearing list.
He said: “Kim Pyong-il, a half brother of Kim Jong-il’s, having long lived in semi-exile in Eastern Europe, is treated more like a distant relative than as a core member of the Kim clan’s rarefied ‘Mount Paektu bloodline.’
“At best, he is to be watched and contained.
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“At worst, his life, like the lives of another uncle and a half brother of Kim Jong-un’s, could prove precarious and short.”
The ideological foundation of the regime rests on the “superhuman” and supposed revolutionary leadership of the country’s founding leader, Kim Il-sung.
Leadership must then be passed on through the family’s bloodline, which North Korean citizens are taught descends directly from the gods.
North Korea under Kim has become known for eliminating potential familial threats.
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His uncle, Jang Song-thaek, was killed in 2013 and his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, in 2017.
During a 2017 interview with the BBC, a close friend of Jong-nam claimed that Kim was executing his family because he was “insecure” over his own power.
He said: “Why does he kill? Because his power is not stable.
“His father, Kim Jong-il, never killed people.
“But now, Kim’s not so comfortable, that’s why he kills.
“He can not trust the people.”
Song-thaek, many have argued, was considered a threat to Kim’s power as he had far-reaching connections in the country having served loyally under Kim Jong-il.
In 2008, South Korean officials and experts claimed that Song-thaek had taken on de facto leadership of the country as Jong-il’s health deteriorated.
Despite being considered a key policy adviser to Kim, in 2013, he was accused of being a counter-revolutionary.
He was shortly stripped of all his posts and expelled from the party, with all his photos removed from official media, and those photos of him with others digitally erasing his face.
In December 2013, state media announced he had been executed.
External reports have since suggested members of his family were also killed.
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