In the News – Seoul Seeks Clues on New Mrs. Kim
SEOUL—Ri Sol Ju, the wife of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Eun, may have visited South Korea in 2005 as part of a singing group, authorities in the city that hosted the group said Thursday as South Koreans scrambled to learn more about her.
Videos and photos show a teenage girl who looks like Ms. Ri as a featured singer in a traditional music group that was part of a broader North Korean contingent attending an international track and field championship in the Seoul suburb of Incheon.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations, said a girl named Ri Sol Ju was on the list of North Koreans who visited Incheon for the September 2005 event. But late Thursday, they were still trying to verify that the woman is Mr. Kim’s newly revealed wife.
About two weeks after Ms. Ri began to be seen in pictures with Mr. Kim, North Korea’s state-run media mentioned her by name for the first time on Wednesday and identified her as his wife. The North Korean media gave no other information, however, and said nothing more about her on Thursday.
South Korean media, government agencies and independent analysts of North Korea spent the day scouring old North Korean media accounts and records of North Korean visitors to the South over the past decade for references to Ms. Ri.
The emergence of Ms. Ri does nothing to alter the fractious state of relations between the two Koreas. North Korea has been angry at the South’s government since President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008 and ended a decade-old policy of few-questions-asked economic assistance, costing North Korea hundreds of millions of dollars annually. It staged two military attacks against the South in 2010, and its state media vilifies President Lee almost every day.
Her presence does create a new dynamic in the power structure of the Kim family regime, which has maintained control of North Korea for three generations and concentrated attention almost entirely on the male leaders.
It also changes the image of Mr. Kim, showing North Koreans worried about his young age that he’s got a stable home life and people outside the country that he’s got different ideas about how he appears than his reclusive father did.
Kim Gyu-ri, who runs an image-consulting firm in Seoul, said Ms. Ri is getting mostly positive attention in South Korea, in part because she’s displayed a fashion sensibility. “With this introduction, people will pay some more attention to what happens there, especially young people,” Ms. Kim said.
A woman named Ri Sol Ju who looks similar to Mr. Kim’s wife also appeared as a solo singer on a televised concert on North Korean TV last year, portions of which have been posted to YouTube.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that a check of its archives turned up two instances in which a young girl named Ri Sol Ju attended inter-Korean events in the North in 2003 and 2004.
The woman with the singers who visited Incheon in 2005, called the North Young Student Cooperation Group, was 17, according to Yonhap.
Kim Yun-hee, an Incheon city official who spent a week as a guide for the girls’ choir, said they had given a favorable impression on stage and off.
“At first they were cautious at what we said or asked, but later we conversed comfortably,” Ms. Kim said. “At the time I had a digital camera, and they were amazed at it. Though they couldn’t express their interest too much since a North Korean security official was in the bus too, but they liked it very much when I took pictures of them.”
Visits by North Korean groups to South Korea gained frequency after the first inter-Korean summit in 2000, but they tailed off after North Korea tested a nuclear weapon for the first time in late 2006.