KIM Jong-un's sister has vanished from North Korea's key "power list" just as he awards himself the "god-like" power once wielded by his father and grandfather.
Kim Yo-jong has mysteriously gone missing from the ruling Workers' Party's politburo raising questions about her status after years of apparent increasing influence.
The party held elections on Sunday for its Central Committee at a congress which maps out diplomatic, military and economic policy goals over the next five years.
Although Kim's sister remained a member of the Central Committee she was not included in its all-powerful politburo, North Korean state news agency, KCNA, revealed.
The move is being seen as an embarrassing demotion for Yo-jong and means she has been very publicly booted out of North Korea’s inner circle of powerful elites.
On the flip side, it was announced her brother's new role of 'general secretary' – once held by his father Kim Jong-il and grandfather Kim Il-sung- now makes him “the brain of the revolution.”
A congress statement said his promotion was in recognition for the way he"has gloriously realised the historic mission to complete the country's nuclear build-up plan."
On Saturday we reported how missile-mad Kim had pledged to boost his nuclear arsenal while branding the US his country's "biggest enemy."
In 2017,Yo-jong became only the second woman in patriarchal North Korea to join the exclusive politburo after her aunt Kim Kyong Hui.
Since then, she appeared to enjoy a speedy rise to power after first emerging alongside her brother on the world stage during his summits with Donald Trump in 2018.
That followed her international debut at the at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea in February that year.
South Korea's intelligence agency said only last August she had become her brother's "de facto second-in-command".
The formidable 33-year-old had been seen as a key figure in the communist country’s regime and was described as a political “princess”.
Her absence from the politburo list comes days after she took the leadership podium for the first time alongside 38 party executives as the congress began.
"It is too early to draw any conclusion about her status, as she is still a Central Committee member and there's a possibility that she has taken up other important posts," said Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul.
And Michael Madden, a North Korea expert at the U.S.-based Stimson Center, said Yo-jong will still enjoy the highest degree of influence in the rogue state whether she was in the politburo or not.
"We have become accustomed to seeing her in a more public role, but Kim Yo-jong's political roots and her formative career experience are behind the scenes, not sitting on a platform listening to speeches," he said.
Her brother has wielded almost absolute power in North Korea's dynastic system since taking over following the death of his father in 2011.
In 2012, the party named the late father "eternal general secretary" and Kim Jong Un "the first secretary".
KCNA said the congress "fully approved" a proposal to promote Kim to the position, which it called "the top brain of the revolution" and "the centre of the leadership and the unity".
"Kim's takeover shows his confidence, that he has now officially joined the ranks of his father and grandfather," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
"It also indicates his strategic intention to centralise the party system around him and reinforce his one-man rule."
The leadership reforms may seem cosmetic to the outside world but appears aimed at allowing Kim to move away from having to personally manage day to day business, Madden said.
"North Korea currently functions as a tribe and Kim Jong-un wants it to function like a monarchy," he said.
One figure who appeared to be rising quickly was Jo Yong-won, newly named to the politburo's five-strong presidium and the party's formidable Central Military Commission.
Choe Son Hui, a vice foreign minister who was instrumental in preparing for a second, failed summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in 2019, was demoted.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in pledged efforts to help engineer a breakthrough in stalled denuclearisation talks as U.S. President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office.
Kim has said he would expand diplomacy but vowed on Friday to develop weapons including "multi-warhead" intercontinental ballistic missiles, calling the United States "our biggest enemy".
The chilling threat was seen as a stark challenge to the incoming presidentjust days before he takes over at the White House.
In a fiery speech, the North Korean leader ordered his military to develop hypersonic missiles with "super-large warheads", underwater nukes, spy satellites and nuclear-powered subs.
"Our foreign political activities should be focused and redirected on subduing the U.S., our biggest enemy and main obstacle to our innovated development," Kim said a top level party meeting in Pyongyang.
"No matter who is in power in the U.S., the true nature of the U.S. and its fundamental policies towards North Korea never change," he added as he vowed to expand ties with "anti-imperialist, independent forces."
Kim's speech suggested if he was open to a deal, it would likely be an arms control agreement rather than full denuclearisation, said Tae Yong-ho, a former North Korean diplomat who defected to the South.
"He wants to send a very strong message to the incoming Biden administration," Tae told Reuters.
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