Friday 20 April 2018

Kim Jong-un elevates wife to position of North Korea's first lady

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has given his wife the title of first lady in what analysts say is a major boost to her status ahead of back-to-back summits with South Korea and the US.
North Korea’s state media referred to Ri Sol-ju as the “respected first lady” in its report on her weekend attendance of a Chinese ballet performance in Pyongyang, the first time the title has been used in more than 40 years.
North Korea’s star anchorwoman Ri Chun-hee, who is often drafted in for major announcements, delivered the news of her attendance on television, further enhancing Ri’s standing. 
Ri, a former star singer, emerged in 2012 and has been regarded as one of the most high-profile women in a deeply patriarchal nation, but with a limited role.
Analysts say her promotion is likely to be part of an effort to paint North Korea as a “normal state” as Kim prepares for summits with the South Korean and US presidents. It gives her a title matching that of Kim Jung-sook, South Korea’s first lady, and Melania Trump.
“The summit is being held as equals, so if Melania Trump attends, Ri will attend,” said An Chan-il, a defector researcher.
North Korean media previously referred to Ri as “comrade” by the North’s state media. It’s report of her ballet outing was the first time since 1974 that the title of first lady has been used, when it was applied to Kim Song-ae, the second wife of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung.
Little is known about Ri, who is believed to be 29 and to have three children with Kim, at least one of them a daughter.
South Korean intelligence reports have described her as coming from an ordinary family with a teacher father and a doctor mother. A former member of the North’s Unhasu orchestra, she reportedly attended a music school in China and visited South Korea in 2005 as a cheerleader for her country’s squad in an international sporting event.
Unlike his father and grandfather, Kim is often seen accompanied by the women in his life, namely Ri and Yo Jong. Past leaders’ spouses and sisters rarely made public appearances.
Some analysts point to Kim’s marginalised mother Ko Yong-hui as another factor driving Ri’s expanded role. Ko had three children with Kim’s father and predecessor, Kim Jong-il, but a low profile throughout her 28-year marriage.
She died in 2004, reportedly from breast cancer, and her body is said to have been secretly flown from Paris, where she was being treated, to Pyongyang. A grave was only built for her in 2012, after Kim took power.
“Growing up watching his mother could have motivated him to elevate the status of his wife,” said Shin Beom-chul, an analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

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