Kim Jong-un’s mysterious companion sparks debate as sister and wife remain missing

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Hyon Song-wol, Mr Kim’s former lover, has become noticeably more visible recently, standing by the leader and assisting him during official events.

The North Korean pop star went on official trips with the leader and stood near him during an important military parade earlier this month.

The role of emotional support had previously belonged to Mr Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, who according to reports had clash with him.

South Korean journalist Wang Son-taek wrote for the NK News website about the sibling’s relationship.

She said: “The positive theory is that the leader grew up and is becoming more independent than before.

“This would mean that Kim Yo-jong is now on the right track towards her own leadership-building path and is strongly supported by her brother.

“A more negative theory is that Kim Jong-un is disappointed in his sister, whom he has relied on a lot emotionally. This would no doubt spell psychological trouble within the Kim family.”

But Mr Kim’s wife, Ri Sol-ju, has also been away from the public sphere, specifically since the new year, sparking competing theories among observers.

Peter Ward, a British researcher on North Korea based in Seoul, said: “Churn is… part of the political process under Kim. People rise to prominence, then they disappear or become less prominent for no apparent reason, and then they may rise again.

“Any or all of these women may be at different stages for no apparently important reason, and none appear likely to end up in very serious trouble any time soon.”

The speculation comes after the North Korean leader issued a decree that trade workers working in China pay 12,000 yuan (£1373) to the Pyongyang government, and if the worker has a spouse, the amount is doubled.

The move is rumoured to be an attempt to cover costs related to the coronavirus crisis, sanctions, and flooding of agricultural crops during the summer.

According to sources in China who spoke to Radio Free Asia, one of the main causes for the economic decline was the closing of the border with China.

An official of a trading company in the Chinese border town of Dandong said: “Due to the shutdown of the border, the trade workers are barely making money right now, so they are having a problem fulfilling the loyalty fund assignment.

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“The workers also have to provide funds for their wife if they are married. So the total amount is 24,000 yuan (£2,746) per household.

“They have to pay into the loyalty fund by the end of this month, so there is only about a week left.”

According to reports if the worker cannot pay the “loyalty fund” it falls on the entity that hired them to cover the costs.

The source added: “This is why the companies are pressuring the workers not to embarrass them.

“If they are not confident in their ability to pay the fund, the workers are asked to return to North Korea immediately.”

Another source spoke of fundraising events organised by trade workers to try and raise the money for the regime after the devastating flooding in the summer.

The source said: “So the trade workers held a fundraising event to support North Korea from the typhoons and flooding damage the country suffered in September.

“During that time, the trade workers were required to give a minimum of 2,000 yuan (£230).

“But, many voluntarily gave the maximum suggested donation of 12,000 yuan (£1373).

“Because of this, the authorities saw that they had the ability to pay more for the party congress loyalty fund. The authorities then set the minimum at 12,000 yuan (£1373).

“Donating 12,000 yuan (£1373) per person is totally doable under normal circumstances, but it is a huge burden right now because the border is closed due to the coronavirus.

“It’s also questionable whether the trade workers will be able to carry out the assignment by the end of the month if they have to double the amount for their wives.”

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