North Korea's Kim Jong Un consolidates power as Trump hints at armed conflict

Key Points
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has promoted his younger sister to a top political post
  • Kim is believed to be consolidating power amid international sanctions and hints of armed conflict from President Donald Trump

Faced with international sanctions and the potential threat of armed confrontation with the U.S., North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un consolidated power over the weekend by elevating his younger sister to a top political post.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un
KCNA | Reuters

On Saturday, Kim used a meeting of the ruling party's key policy-making body, known as the Central Committee, to comment on ongoing tensions with Washington and announce several personnel changes, the KCNA news agency reported. The communist Workers' Party is North Korea's primary political faction and has been in power ever since the state's creation in 1948.

KCNA, Pyongyang's official mouthpiece, said in an English report that Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korea's ruler, was named as one of four elected alternate members of the politburo. Other promotions included Kim Jong Sik and Ri Pyong Chol, two key figures behind the country's weapons program.

Kim Yo Jong and her brother are now the only millennials in the influential body; she is believed to have replaced her aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, who was a key decision maker during Kim Jong Il's administration, Reuters said. Kim Jong Il is the father of Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong.

Saturday's appointment was a move by the current leader to ensure that his inner circle is full of trusted people, said Harry Kazanis, director of defense studies at the Center For the National Interest, an American think tank.

There are good reasons the US does not try and shoot down North Korea missile tests
There are good reasons the US does not try and shoot down North Korea missile tests

"Tensions with the United States are running as close to as an all time high, as you can imagine, so he's going to want to continue consolidating power," Kazanis told CNBC's "The Rundown" on Monday. "He doesn't want any danger of a coup or internal instability."

Prior to the announcement of Kim's appointment on Saturday, President Donald Trump issued yet another threat to the nuclear-armed nation. Years of diplomacy and financial incentives failed to sway the regime but "only one thing will work," Trump said on Twitter, hinting at the prospect of military action.

Kim Yo Jong, believed to be in her late twenties, has long held senior positions in the Workers' Party, with media reports previously referring to her as vice director of the propaganda department. The U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted her, alongside six other North Korean individuals, in January for supporting human rights abuses and censorship activities in the isolated state.

Her promotion is "part of a continual shake-up Kim Jong Un is doing," Kazanis continued. "He doesn't want to keep the same people his father had in place."

Recently, some immediate family members who might have been deemed threatening to the regime have been killed.

Kim Jong Un's half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, who had publicly spoken out against the Kim family's dynastic control, was assassinated in dramatic fashion this year, while the ruler's uncle, Jang Song Thaek, was executed in 2013.