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

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid