News / Asia

    Revelation of N. Korean Leader's Wife Denotes Break with Tradition

    North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) applauds with his wife Ri Sol-Ju (L) during a demonstration performance by the newly formed Moranbong band in Pyongyang in this undated picture released by the KCNA July 9, 2012
    North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) applauds with his wife Ri Sol-Ju (L) during a demonstration performance by the newly formed Moranbong band in Pyongyang in this undated picture released by the KCNA July 9, 2012
    SEOUL – The revelation that North Korea's leader is married is raising questions about the announcement's significance and whether it is a sign of change in the reclusive country. 

    Kim Jong Un's spouse was revealed in low-key fashion during a broadcast in Pyongyang Wednesday.  Describing the opening ceremony at the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground, the television announcer noted Kim's presence and that of "his wife, Ri Sol Ju."

    The announcer proclaimed that "all the participants enthusiastically welcomed them, loudly shouting "mansei!" - the traditional Korean cheer for long life.

    State media did not elaborate about the woman with a short stylish haircut.

    Most observers discount reports she appears to be a singer with a nearly identical name who performed during a 2010 New Year's Eve concert in Pyongyang.

    Family ties

    Several South Korean media reports and one prominent analyst say Kim's wife is 27 years old and holds an advanced degree in natural science. Her father is reported to be a college professor and her mother a hospital administrator.

    South Korea’s National Intelligence Service reportedly told a briefing for national assembly members some different background information. According to an opposition lawmaker, the spy agency believes Ri was born in 1989, studied vocal music in China and married Kim in 2009. It also says she visited South Korea in 2005 as a member of a cheerleading squad for an inter-Korean athletic event.

    Some reports say she recently underwent six months of "first lady training." And there is speculation Kim may have fathered a daughter with Ri.

    Considering what little information is typically revealed about North Korea's leadership, such details might never be officially confirmed.

    Break with tradition

    But Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, says the latest revelation heralds a clear break with tradition. Yang contends this demonstrates North Korea is preparing to open and reform. But Professor Yang says the public revelation of the marriage also carries risks for Kim.

    Yang says both of North Korea's previous leaders had several wives and it is difficult to predict how many spouses Kim Jong Un will have. Thus, it is quite a bold and unprecedented move for him, Yang says, considering almost nothing was revealed publicly by Kim's grandfather and father about their private lives.

    Kim, believed to be 29, came to power following the death of his father last December. Yang predicts  His wife will also play another unprecedented role.

    The professor foresees Kim Jong Un's wife eventually accompanying her husband in summit diplomacy with officials from South Korea, China and Russia in line with a trend of international society.

    Diplomatic relations

    Asked about the revelation the leader of impoverished North Korea is indeed married, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland responded diplomatically.

    "We would always wish any kind of newlyweds well as they embark," she noted. "But obviously our concerns, first and foremost, are for the North Korean people and our hope that conditions for them and that the new DPRK leadership will make the right choice about opening the country and providing more for their people."

    Neither Washington nor Seoul has diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

    What S. Koreans think

    Opinions from inside North Korea are difficult to obtain. But in the South Korean capital, Seoul, some people shared with VOA their initial assessment of the North's first couple.

    Yang Chul-hwa, 75, a native of Kaesong in the North, says the revelation is meant to give people a positive impression of North Korea and Kim Jong Un.

    A 54-year-old woman, who only wanted to be identified by her family name, Jung, remarks this never happened during the era of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong Il. She says Kim Jong Un is from a different generation and studied in Switzerland so it is easier for him to reveal his wife. This, she says, will allow North Korea to proceed in opening to the outside world.

    Skepticism

    But some analysts continue to express skepticism the third generation of Kim family rule will lead to any significant change. They point out Pyongyang continues to spout bellicose rhetoric at Seoul and continues to take a hardline approach on its nuclear and missile development programs.

    But much attention has been focused on recent cosmetic changes, such as a musical performance featuring contemporary music and a dancer in an imitation Mickey Mouse costume. It was at that July 6 performance that attention was drawn to Ri, seen sitting alongside Kim.

    Youmi Kim in the VOA Seoul bureau contributed to this report

    Steve Herman

    Steve Herman is VOA's Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, based at the State Department.

    You May Like

    Vietnam Mulls Tough Measures for ‘Misbehaving’ Chinese Tourists

    Move comes after footage surfaced online of Chinese travelers harassing a banana hawker in Da Nang

    Pakistan Social Media Star's Honor Killing Fuels Debate

    Qandeel Baloch's murder puts spotlight on deadly tradition and other mistreatment of women

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Borderi
    X
    July 22, 2016 12:30 AM
    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.
    Video

    Video Number of Syrian Refugees Arriving in US Jumps

    The United States is committed to resettling 85,000 refugees from around the world by October. Of that number, 10,000 will come from Syria and already some 4,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States, many of them settling in the state of Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from Chicago, their arrival is not the end of a difficult journey to find peace and stability.
    Video

    Video Rio’s Trams Await Olympic Tourists

    Over the past century, many cities around the world replaced electric trams, prone to breakdowns and backups, with faster and more spacious buses. But for some reason restored antique trams are a huge tourist attraction. So it’s no wonder the authorities in Rio de Janeiro are busy restoring their city’s old tram line ahead of the Summer Olympic Games. VOA’ George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora