Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean dictator’s sister, might have to take on her brother’s position after claims Mr Kim has been in a coma for months. Experts have said Ms Kim will “rule with an iron first”.
David Maxwell, a retired US Army Colonel, said: “I haven’t seen any evidence, any indication of how she might rule, but my speculation — given the reputation and history of the family — is that she would rule with an iron fist.”
Mr Maxwell co-authored the Pentagon’s 1999 contingency plan with South Korea for the destruction of the North’s regime.
He said there was widespread opinion that Mr Kim “would be more open to the outside world” when he succeeded his father, Kim Jong II, in 2011.
Mr Maxwell added: “That hasn’t been borne out. I think we have to assume that every successor is worse than the last.”
He also highlighted how Kim Jong-un’s health rumours were “coming from speculation from one former diplomat” Chang Song-min who is a former aide to the late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.
Mr Maxwell said: “We haven’t seen any evidence that something’s happened.”
Some experts have rejected the claims made about Mr Kim’s health.
Sung-Yoon Lee, professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in the US, said the reports are a “rehashing of a false assertion” that first appeared in April.
When Mr Kim disappeared from public appearances in April for three weeks, reports questioned the North Korean Leader’s health.
Mr Lee said: “At the same time, clearly there has been a contingency plan rolled out since early March to bolster Kim Yo Jong’s credentials and have her, if and when necessary, to seize the reins of power should Kim Jong Un become incapacitated.”
He called the North Korean leader’s sister “ambitious and smart”.
He added how she “does cast a softer feminine glow on the brutish facade of her regime.”
Mr Lee predicts that if Ms Kim does take on the power then the nature of the regime “demands she be ruthless, especially in the first few years”.
He said: “The way for her to build up her credibility and net worth, that is, the way for her to get respect, is not to play nice but be a cruel dictator to her people and a credible nuclear threat to the US.
“She may prove herself fiercer and more tyrannical than her brother, father, or grandfather.”
Victor Cha, who was a former director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council during President George W. Bush’s administration, said Ms Kim “seems to be a hard-liner on South Korea and the United States”.
He added that “there’s no signs of her as a reformer.”
Mr Cha explained how Ms Kim’s possible succession would probably be accompanied by missile launches or other sorts of “provocation to establish her credibility, both domestically and internationally”.
He also said he may purge the North Korean government “to get people loyal to her key positions”.
But Mr Cha pointed out that there is a wild card in the form of Mr Kim’s uncle, Kim Pyong II.
The sibling’s uncle returned last year to North Korea after serving as a diplomat across Europe.
Mr Cha said: “It’s not clear if the sister and uncle would work together or if they would be competing.
“It starts to sound like ‘The Sopranos,’ but he’s been out of the country for like decades, because the father and the uncle competed with each other, so he got sent away.”