North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's powerful younger sister, who serves as vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, may have been handpicked to rule the country if her brother is incapacitated, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported Wednesday.
The Japanese newspaper also reported a French medical team visited North Korea in January. The North Korean leader's high blood pressure and heart condition may have been deteriorating. This week, unconfirmed reports suggested Kim Jong Un was in critical condition following surgery, claims that were dismissed in Seoul on Tuesday.
A South Korean unification ministry official said Wednesday there are no signs Kim Yo Jong would be acting as the highest authority. There is also no evidence her brother was sick, South Korean television network JTBC reported.
According to the Yomiuri, preparations began in late 2019 for Kim Yo Jong's potential role as interim ruler of North Korea in the event of her brother's absence. A Yomiuri source familiar with South Korea, Japan and U.S. relations told the paper her name was mentioned during a general meeting of the central committee of the Korean Workers' Party.
"Soon after, many directives were being sent to the party and the military in Kim Yo Jong's name," the source said.
Kim Yo Jong did issue statements regarding inter-Korea and U.S.-North Korea relations in her name on March 3, and again on March 22. She also accompanied her brother to a military exercise on March 21, according to the report.
Speculation about Kim Jong Un's health began this week following his appearance at a Politburo meeting on April 11.
Kim was also absent for 21 days after Jan. 25, reappearing again for a Feb. 16 event commemorating his father's birthday, according to South Korean news service Newsis.
Hong Min, a South Korean analyst with the Korea Institute for National Unification, told KBS Radio the North Korean leader could reappear later this month or early May for construction ceremonies.