UPDATE : 2019.7.22 MON 10:50
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Stature of N.K. leader's sister appears elevated: Seoul's spy agency

The stature of Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, appears to have been elevated, the chief of the parliament's intelligence committee said Tuesday, citing the spy agency's closed-door briefing.

Rep. Lee Hye-hoon made the remarks, revising her earlier explanation that the standing of Kim Yo-jong appears to have been bolstered to a "leadership level." She admitted that the explanation "does not match the reality" in the North, where Kim Jong-un is the sole, supreme ruler.

This file photo shows Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

"The root cause of the problem was (my) expressing the elevated standing in our terms," Lee wrote in a social media post.

"I write this hoping that South Korea's intelligence agency would not face any misunderstanding because of my expression," she added.

In the press briefing earlier in the day, Lee quoted the National Intelligence Service (NIS) as saying that the leader's sister has been promoted to a leadership role.

Kim Yo-jong, who has assumed the No. 2 post of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea's propaganda and agitation department, was spotted sitting with top Pyongyang officials while watching a propaganda performance last week, an event to celebrate Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to the North.

Rumor had it that she was disciplined in the wake of the no-deal summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader in February in Hanoi.

But trumping such speculation, she returned to the public eye in early June when attending the propaganda group gymnastics and artist performance.

The NIS said she appears to be on the same level as Choe Ryong-hae, de facto No. 2 man in the country, and Ri Su-yong, vice chairman of the Workers' Party.

"Choe is definitely playing the role of No. 2," it added.

In addition, the NIS said that the status of Kim Yong-chol, who served as a chief negotiator in nuclear talks with the United States, seems to have declined following the Hanoi summit.

The NIS said the foreign ministry is apparently taking a leading role in dealing with external relations, including nuclear negotiations with the U.S.

Rep. Lee said Hyon Song-wol, head of the North's Samjiyon Orchestra, is assuming Kim Yo-jong's previous duty of handling protocol for the North's leader.

Kim Jong-un and Xi may have discussed ways to bolster economic and military cooperation during their summit in Pyongyang.

Xi visited North Korea on Thursday and Friday for his summit with Kim to discuss the North's denuclearization and bilateral ties. It was made to reciprocate Kim's trips to China on three occasions last year.

The agency said Xi's trip, his first state visit to the North, was timed to coincide with weeks of protests in Hong Kong against an extradition bill that could deal a blow to the Chinese president's leadership.

The NIS said China's potential assistance to support North Koreans' livelihoods might have been discussed under the framework of international sanctions.

"It would be impossible to seek tourism involving a large facility investment. Assistance of food, fertilizers, crude oil and tourism may be possible even under global sanctions on North Korea," it noted.(Yonhap)

Lee Kyung-sik  edt@koreapost.com

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