North Korea Identifies Kim Jon Un’s Mystery Companion as His Wife

Posted July 25th, 2012 at 12:40 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

North Korea has confirmed that its new leader Kim Jong Un is married, ending weeks of speculation about the identity of a woman who has accompanied him in recent public events.

State media reported that Mr. Kim and “Comrade Ri Sol Ju” toured a newly-built amusement park in Pyongyang on Wednesday. It was the first time North Korean media referred to the leader's wife and provided her name. But the reports did not say when the two were married or provide any other details.

Mr. Kim is thought to be around 29 years old. He took over the leadership of the reclusive state from his father Kim Jong Il, who died in December.

North Korean television first showed the stylish woman sitting next to Mr. Kim at a Pyongyang concert on July 6, but did not identify her. She later made appearances alongside the leader when he made visits to a kindergarten and the mausoleum of his grandfather Kim Il Sung.

Kim Jong Un's introduction of Ri Sol Ju as North Korea's first lady is the latest in a series of moves that break with his late father's secretive and dour leadership style. In recent months, Mr. Kim also has spoken in public and chatted informally with troops and other citizens.

VOA's Seoul correspondent Steve Herman said analysts believe North Korea's new leader is trying to prove himself.

“Because Kim Jong Un is so young, by showing him as a married man, so to speak, that shows that he is mature and this is very important in Korean culture. So this would help bolster his image as a leader. And he does not carry that personal baggage of his father, who apparently had a number of different wives and lovers over many years.”

Another sign of Mr. Kim developing his own image as leader is last week's announcement that he has taken the title of Marshal, the country's top military rank.

Herman said Seoul pays close attention to revelations about Pyongyang's leadership because the two neighbors have remained technically in a state of conflict since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

“Anything that happens with the North Korean leadership is very big news here because of the number of rockets and artillery that are pointed at Seoul from North Korea and the fact that North Korea is believed to be developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and has the world's fourth largest army, which would be used against South Korea if there were to be a new conflict,” Herman said.

“So, anything about Kim Jong Un's personal life is going to be of tremendous interest in South Korea.”

A report released Wednesday by the International Crisis Group said there are no clear signs of a conspiracy to overthrow Mr. Kim, despite his surprise removal of a top military leader earlier this month. ICG senior analyst Daniel Pinkston told VOA that Mr. Kim has a “firm grip” on power and is unlikely to make any significant policy changes.

The report said Pyongyang could test long-range missiles or a nuclear bomb in an effort to bolster Mr. Kim's credentials.