Meet North Korea’s most powerful woman, Kim Yo Jong — Kim Jong Un’s 30-ish sister who played a key role in the summit with Trump

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un looks at US President Donald Trump as Kim's sister Kim Yo Jong exchanges documents with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018.

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North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un looks at US President Donald Trump as Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong exchanges documents with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018.
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REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

During the summit between the United States and North Korea this week, Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong was front and center during the historic show of diplomacy with President Donald Trump.

It’s not the first time Kim Yo Jong has made headlines in recent months – she traveled to South Korea during the 2018 Winter Olympics in February, becoming the first member of North Korea’s ruling family to visit the south since the Korean War in the 1950s.

Like her brother, and much of the rest of their family, few details are known about Kim Yo Jong and the life she lived before reaching a prime leadership role in the North Korean government.

Here’s what we know about her so far:


Like many of Kim’s family members, Kim Yo Jong’s exact age is difficult to pin down. But she’s believed to be between 29 and 31.


She’s the youngest child of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his consort Ko Yong Hui, a former dancer.

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The Kim family tree.
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Business Insider/Samantha Lee

Source: Business Insider


She was partly educated in Switzerland, at the same school Kim Jong Un attended. But she returned to North Korea in 2000 after completing the US equivalent of the sixth grade.

Source: North Korea Leadership Watch


It was clear from a young age that Kim Yo Jong was destined for a powerful career. Kim Jong Il once bragged to foreign interlocutors in 2002 that his youngest daughter was interested in politics and eager to work in North Korea’s government.

Source: North Korea Leadership Watch


It’s completely unclear where she was or what she was up to between 2000 and 2007.

Source: North Korea Leadership Watch


In the following years, she conducted a lot of behind-the-scenes work for her father Kim Jong Il and brother Kim Jong Un. She played a particularly significant role in helping Kim Jong Un take over instead of his older brothers.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 16, 2017.
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KCNA via REUTERS

Source: North Korea Leadership Watch


Her first public appearance was in 2011 at Kim Jong Il’s funeral.

Source: The Washington Post


Kim Yo Jong made headlines last year after she was promoted to a top position in her brother’s government: the head of the propaganda department of the Worker’s Party of Korea.

Source: The New York Times


That’s not just a fancy title — Kim Yo Jong plays a crucial role in controlling her brother’s public image.

Source: The Washington Post


In public, Kim Yo Jong appears to have greater freedom than other top government officials in North Korea, occasionally appearing in photographs unaccompanied rather than constantly being in the presence of Kim Jong Un.

Source: The New York Times


Some have speculated that she was promoted partly in an effort to continue Kim Jong Un’s dynasty. While she’s out of the line of succession, some believe she could take over the country’s leadership if something happens to Kim Jong Un before his kids are old enough to rule.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on October 8, 2017.
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KCNA/via REUTERS

Sources: The New York Times, Washington Post


It wouldn’t be an unprecedented role for her, either. Kim Yo Jong once briefly took control of the country’s affairs while her brother was ill in 2014, according to a South Korean think tank run by North Korean defectors.

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Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, attends an opening ceremony of a newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017.
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REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Source: CNN


She stepped onto the world stage in February 2018. In a rare show of diplomacy between the two Koreas, Kim Yo Jong traveled to South Korea for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

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North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong arrives at Incheon International Airport, South Korea, in this photo taken by Kyodo February 9, 2018.
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Kyodo via Reuters

Everyone’s eyes were on Kim Yo Jong at the start of the games. She shared a historic handshake with South Korean President Moon Jae In, and both broke out in smiles.

Source: Business Insider


Though the two Koreas remained divided, it was a rare show of diplomacy and warmth. Given her experience in propaganda, she likely knew exactly what she was doing to try and curry favorable attention.

Source: Business Insider


In April, she played a crucial role in the peace talks between the two Koreas. Leaders from the two nations met at the demilitarized zone, and Kim Yo Jong was notably the only woman at the table.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their meeting at the Peace House at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas on April 27, 2018.
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Korea Summit Press Pool via Reuters

Though she stayed well away from the spotlight, leaving that to her brother, it was clear Kim Yo Jong played a significant role in orchestrating the talks and ensuring the day ran smoothly.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un prepares to write in a guest book with his sister Kim Yo Jong during their meeting at the Peace House at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the DMZ on April 27, 2018.
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Korea Summit Press Pool via Reuters

She was also front and center during this week’s Trump-Kim summit in Singapore. She played a similar role as the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, standing side by side with their respective leaders during the document-signing.

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Kim Yo Jong shows a document to her brother, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shows a copy of it to President Donald Trump before they sign them at their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018.
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Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Source: Business Insider


Kim Yo Jong sparked curiosity at one point, when she switched out the pen that was provided for the summit with her own ballpoint pen. It’s unclear why she swapped the pens, but some have speculated that it was for security reasons.

Sources: Twitter/@martyn_williams, BBC


It’s become increasingly clear over the past several months that Kim Yo Jong is one of her brother’s most trusted officials, and her power in the regime is only growing.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong walks at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018.
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Korea Summit Press Pool via Reuters

But in the Hermit Kingdom, no one’s position is ever truly secure under the mercurial leadership of Kim Jong Un. He’s known for turning on family members quickly when they fall out of favor — and it remains to be seen whether Kim Yo Jong is an exception.