Yeonmi Park says despite reports suggesting he was in poor health, or even dead, the 36-year-old remains very much in control – and would not tolerate the slightest hint of dissent. Kim has been Supreme Leader since the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in 2011 – and Ms Park, who now lives in Chicago, said there was no reason to think the situation would change in the near future, despite the fact that 32-year-old Kim Yo-jong has been touted as a possible successor.
She said: “I still have contacts in North Korea and people in North Korea giving me information.
“We can agree that Kim Yo-jong is not taking over North Korea and I don’t think that is in her interest.
“Kim Jong-un is very much in power and he’s not dying anytime soon.”
Ms Park escaped from North Korea via China in 2007 and settled in South Korea in 2009 before making her way to the US.
She told the New York Post: “I’m sure if Kim Jong-un’s health is bad that he would announce his sister to be the next successor but direct from my North Korean source, that is not the case.
“He’s not anywhere near to being replaced.
“North Korea is a very Confucius country. We respect the elders, the hierarchy.
“It’s not like America where anyone can step up and do things, we have our tradition.
“Kim Yo-jong is not going to get any respect if she one day she just says, ‘I’m going to replace him’.”
As an example of the fate which might befall Kim Yo-jong if she did so, Ms Park pointed to the execution of Kim’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, in 2013, and the assassination of half-brother Kim Jong-nam at an airport in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia three years ago.
She said: “Because there’s no two powers that can co-exist, Kim Jong-un had to get rid of his uncle in a brutal way.
“Why did he get rid of his brother? Because of the same reason.
“He cannot have anyone who can possibly threaten him while he’s in power.
“The reason why Kim Yo-jong is still OK and in public is because she has no chance to replace Kim Jong-un right now.”
Speaking about the circumstances in which Kim Jong-un came to power, Ms Park said: Kim Il-sung prepared Kim Jong-il for decades to be his successor and made it very clear from the beginning, ‘This is my son and he’s going to lead the country’ and that took more than 10 years – almost 20 years.
“Before Kim Jong-il died, it wasn’t like one day Kim Jong-un took over.
“Kim Jong-il made sure his son was known to the North Korean people and it was clear that he was the next heir. He prepared him for at least three years beforehand.”
Despite Park’s comments about Kim Yo-jong, her whereabouts are currently unknown, and she has been absent from the public eye since July 27, triggering speculation about her safety.
North Korea expert Professor Nam Sung-wook, from Korea University, told The Chosun Ilbo newspaper: “In the past, anyone was deprived of their position the moment they were described as the number two person in the North.”