New-style North Korean leader reveals he is married
North Korea’s state-run news media ended weeks of speculation about the identity of the poised young woman seen with the young leader Kim Jong-un at various recent public events, announcing yesterday that she is his wife.
The North’s Central TV showed Kim attending a ceremony honouring the completion of an amusement park in the capital, Pyongyang, with the woman, and identified her as “Comrade Ri Sol-ju, wife of Marshal Kim Jong-un”, South Korean officials said.
A North Korean state-run radio station also identified the woman as Kim’s wife. There were no official accounts, however, of when the marriage took place.
The images were a major shift for North Korea. During the rule of Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, most ordinary North Koreans never saw their first lady on television; many defectors in that era did not know her name or those of any of the leader’s children. Kim Jong-un was widely seen for the first time only in 2010, when he was formally introduced as successor to the leadership.
In recent weeks, North Korean media has shown Ri, stylishly dressed and stately in manner, accompanying Kim Jong-un to several state functions. She smiled warmly at people cheering at Kim Jong-un and looked at ease while she talked to old generals and foreign dignitaries based in Pyongyang.
The couple attended a July 6th concert that featured Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters. They later visited a kindergarten together, and paid their respects at the Kumsusan mausoleum where Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, the North Korean founding president Kim il-Sung, lie in state.
The young leader, believed to be still in his late 20s, took over leadership in North Korea after his father’s death in December.
He has recently begun projecting himself as self-confident enough to attempt a different ruling style from that of the dour and reclusive Kim Jong-il. North Korean television showed him raising a thumb at a girl group singing the theme song of the iconic American movie Rocky during the concert that featured Mickey Mouse.
The first family was not always so opaque, but a veil of privacy descended after Kim Jong-il was designated as his father’s successor in the mid-1970s.
Revealing Kim Jong-un’s marital status, North Korean media broadened his appeal and emphasized his maturity, analysts said.
“Showing up in public with his wife will appeal well to young North Koreans yearning for change, especially women, who are living in a deeply male-dominated society,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea analyst at Sejong Institute in South Korea and an expert on the Kim family.
He said he believed the marriage occurred in 2009 and that the couple may have had a child the following year. He said Ri (27) graduated from the North’s elite Kim il-Sung University.