Women in the Markets of North Korea

It is a challenge to report on North Korea without talking sometimes about the hardships in the country. On this blog, we generally try to focus on fostering greater understanding of this place so different from our own, and to do that we often play up the “good news” or choose lighter fare to cover, since so many sources focus instead on the negative. We try to provide a picture of hope.

But, to deserve the respect of our readers, sometimes we have to cover difficult issues. We’ll touch on some such issues in this post.

A new report by the Peterson Institute for International Economics examines the advantages and disadvantages of being a woman in North Korea. It used a detailed survey of refugees living in South Korea to build a picture of life inside North Korea over the past ten or twenty years.

A woman sells snacks at a roadside stand on April 21, 2012. Photo credit David Guttenfelder / AP Photo.

One of the most prominent features of gender inequity in North Korea is the role of women in private markets. Women tended disproportionately to be shed from government or party jobs, which along with the military are deeply biased toward men; women also tend generally to be less likely to hold a job in general. Continue reading

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In the News – Kim Jong-un Favors Cuban Heels Just Like His Dad

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In the News – Kim Jong-un Favors Cuban Heels Just Like His Dad

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (front right) wears Cuban heels during a visit to an amusement park in Pyongyang with his wife Ri Sol-ju (front left) on Wednesday. /[North] Korean Central News Agency-Yonhap

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (front right) wears Cuban heels during a visit to an amusement park in Pyongyang with his wife Ri Sol-ju (front left) on Wednesday. /[North] Korean Central News Agency-Yonhap

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been spotted sporting Cuban heels like his late father Kim Jong-il.

In photos from the North Korean state media of Kim visiting an amusement park in Pyongyang with his wife Ri Sol-ju last week, the chubby leader’s shoes look designed to make him seem taller.

Kim, who is thought to be 168 cm tall, apparently wears 5-cm lifts.

Original Article

In the News – N. Korean leader Kim goes on outing after introducing wife

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In the News – N. Korean leader Kim goes on outing after introducing wife

SEOUL, July 27 (Yonhap) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has attended a music performance together with his recently unveiled wife, state media said Friday, their first reported outing since the wife’s identity was revealed to the outside world for the first time earlier this week.

The wife has been a focus of speculation since earlier this month when state media began showing her closely accompanying the young leader during a series of public appearances without identifying who she was.

The North’s media identified her as the leader’s wife, Ri Sol-ju, on Wednesday. Seoul’s intelligence agency said the 23-year-old Ri, who is believed to have been educated in music and sang in a national orchestra, married Kim in 2009 and may have a child with the leader.

On Friday, Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the couple viewed a music performance by the music band of the country’s police force Internal Security Forces held in Ponghwa Art Theatre in Pyongyang a day earlier.

The singing and dance performance was held to celebrate victory in the Korean War, the North Korean holiday that marks the July 27 truce in 1953 that ended the 1950-53 conflict.

“The performers sang of the undying feats of Kim Il Sung, who wrought miracles of history by defeating the most atrocious U.S. imperialists in the war,” KCNA reported.

Kim expressed great satisfaction over the performance, which extolled the country’s Songun, or military-first, revolution, it said.

Original Article 

In the News – Seoul Seeks Clues on New Mrs. Kim

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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.

Original Article 

In the News – N. Korean leader’s wife visited S. Korea in 2005: spy agency

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In the News – N. Korean leader’s wife visited S. Korea in 2005: spy agency

SEOUL, July 26 (Yonhap) — The wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited South Korea in 2005 as part of a cheering squad for an athletic event, a South Korean lawmaker said Thursday, citing information provided by the South’s spy agency.

The revelation came one day after North Korean media identified the woman recently pictured flanking Kim as his wife, Ri Sol-ju.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) confirmed local media reports claiming Ri had visited the South Korean city of Incheon in 2005, Rep. Jung Chung-rai of the main opposition Democratic United Party told reporters after a parliamentary interpellation session attended by Won Sei-hoon, the director of the NIS.

Her visit was during an Asian athletics competition held in Incheon in September of that year, he said.

It is rare for South and North Koreans to visit each other’s countries, as they must receive special permission from their respective governments. The two Koreas remain in a technical state of war following the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

NIS officials told lawmakers they believe Ri was born in 1989 and married the North Korean leader in 2009, according to Jung. The leader, whose age has been disputed due to the secretive nature of the reclusive regime, was confirmed to have been born in January 1984, the NIS officials said in the closed-door session.

The spy agency interpreted the North’s disclosure of the first lady as an attempt to give Kim a “stable image,” according to Jung.

News reports have often cited sources familiar with the communist regime as saying Kim lacks the support of his people due to his young age and lack of experience.

The young leader inherited the military-backed regime following the death of his father and longtime leader Kim Jong-il last December.

NIS officials also confirmed reports that Ri is a singer for the North’s Unhasu Orchestra, according to Jung. Details of her background have yet to emerge, but she is believed to have been born into an ordinary family and studied vocal music in China, he said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun of the ruling Saenuri Party quoted NIS officials as saying North Korea’s former military chief Ri Yong-ho was dismissed earlier this month because of his “uncooperative attitude” toward Kim’s drive to tighten his grip on the military.

North Korea announced Ri’s dismissal last week in a surprise move that fueled speculation about a possible power struggle in Pyongyang.

Asked to explain the “uncooperative attitude,” Yoon said it was related to a generation shift within the 1.2-million-strong armed forces as Kim Jong-un moves to transfer control of the economy from the military to the government.

The lawmaker also quoted NIS officials as saying Ri appeared to have been “purged,” based on a July 21 re-run on North Korean state television of a visit to an orchard by Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un last year. Scenes of Ri, who accompanied the Kims on the trip, were deleted from the clip, he said.

On Kim Jong-un’s aunt Kim Kyong-hui and her husband Jang Song-thaek, both powerful figures in the communist regime, NIS officials said they appear to be strengthening their roles as the young leader’s guardians by respectively providing mental support and policy advice.

It is also the spy agency’s assessment that the North’s three-generation hereditary power succession has been completed with Kim’s promotions to the top levels of the country’s ruling Workers’ Party, government and military.

Following Ri’s dismissal, the North announced its leader had been given the title of marshal, the highest functioning military rank.

The NIS noted it took three years for former leader Kim Jong-il to complete his inheritance of power from his own father, the North’s founding leader Kim Il-sung.

Original Article 

In the News – That Mystery Woman in North Korea? Turns Out She’s the First Lady

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In the News – That Mystery Woman in North Korea? Turns Out She’s the First Lady

SEOUL, South Korea — She was first spotted at a gala concert for the country’s who’s who, dressed in a trim black suit in the Chanel tradition. Then she popped up at a kindergarten, trailing photographers who caught images of her smiling gently at children playing on a slide. Her latest appearance, at the inauguration of an amusement park, was yet another star turn: the cameras zooming in on the slim woman with the easy smile and fashionable polka-dot jacket.

Ri Sol-ju’s sudden appearance in the spotlight on Wednesday, in a photo from the amusement park visit, had all the trappings of a Kate Middleton moment.

Except this is North Korea, and Ms. Ri’s tantalizing public appearances were less a debut than a typically opaque North Korean-style acknowledgment that the mysterious 20-something leader of the country had taken a wife. State media made that clear with little fanfare, almost as an afterthought, in an announcement that the new amusement park had opened in Pyongyang.

“While a welcoming song was resonating,” state television intoned, “Marshal Kim Jong-un appeared at the ceremony site, with his wife, Comrade Ri Sol-ju.”

The fact that Ms. Ri was introduced publicly at all was considered significant, the latest sign for North Korea analysts that Mr. Kim was breaking from the leadership style of his father, a dour man who was known for marrying beautiful performers but who never introduced them to the public.

“Secrecy and shadows characterized the 17-year rule ofKim Jong-il,” said John Park, a research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. “In contrast, Kim Jong-un has already shown a pattern of being more open and engaging. He appears to enjoy public events and interacting with children and the common soldier. Many of these recent appearances look like a re-enactment of his grandfather’s mingling with the people in better times.”

The introduction of Ms. Ri followed weeks of surprises from Mr. Kim. First he was shown at the concert, beaming during a performance by Mickey Mouse, formerly considered a symbol of the corrupt West. Then he fired a hard-line top general and was reported to have taken away important financial perks from the military, moves that analysts saw as signs that he was trying to tame the powerful army — and even possibly make economic reforms that could allow the country to open up a bit to the world.

The announcement of his marriage, analysts said, seemed to be a continuation of what is either a policy change, or a propaganda offensive, or both.

“It would put some of his new policies into the context of a North Korean version of Camelot,” Mr. Park said. “A dynamic and charismatic first lady could be very helpful in creating this image of Camelot. It’s definitely an uphill battle, but this image could generate some initial momentum.”

“Uphill,” in this case, is an enormous understatement. North Korea remains one of the world’s most tightly controlled police states, with active gulags where defectors say torture and death are commonplace and one where failed economic policies helped lead to mass starvation in the 1990s and widespread food shortages that continue today.

For Mr. Kim, analysts say, a change in tone could speak to a young generation that is slowly learning about the world — and its own country’s failings — through a proliferation of smuggled cellphones and South Korean television shows. Ms. Ri’s fashion sense, they say, appears to be part of the building of a youthful new image; for years North Korean women were pictured only in traditional billowing dresses or Mao-style work clothes.

It is difficult to judge how important Ms. Ri’s ascension will prove to be in the realm of policy.

Mr. Kim has reportedly made a few significant changes since coming to power after the death of his father in December. They include publicly acknowledging some failures that his father and grandfather would almost certainly have hidden. He has been much more blunt about the food shortages, vowing to do more to ensure his people will not go hungry, and he admitted that an important rocket launching was a bust. He is even reported to be backing a program to allow hundreds of North Koreans to work in China to bring in much needed foreign currency, a risky plan that could expose many more of his countrymen to the world after decades of a virtual information blackout.

But defectors and others with contacts inside North Korea say his government has also tightened control on its border with China to keep disaffected North Koreans in, and the increasing trickle of foreign news out. And he shows no signs of backing off the nuclear arms program that has made his country a pariah, nor of abandoning “socialist principles in economic matters.”

It is also a matter of dispute how important the wives and female companions of North Korean leaders are. Confidential cables released by WikiLeaks suggested that at least one source for American government analysts thought the women played an important role. (One cable by the consulate in Shanghai quotes that source as saying that a woman close to Kim Jong-il was “extremely powerful” and the person deciding who had access to him.) Others, however, have suggested that Kim Jong-il’s wives’ most important role was to try to ensure their own progeny ascended to run the nation.

Kim Jong-un’s mother, the winner in the dynastic skirmishing, died years before he was named successor. But according to many analysts in South Korea — whose job is to parse what few details there are on the North — all indications were that she had already convinced her husband that Jong-un would be the strongest leader among his sons.

The understated introduction of Ms. Ri to her people ended weeks of fevered speculation outside the country over who the “mystery woman” suddenly appearing at Mr. Kim’s side was.

Even now, though, much remains unknown. She may be the founder of the girl band, including string players in miniskirts, that performed at the now-famous state concert in which Ms. Ri was seated to Mr. Kim’s right. She appears not, however, to be the old flame that some media reports say Mr. Kim was forced to abandon on his father’s orders.

But almost everything else remains unknown; the world knows more about Kate Middleton’s popular sister, Pippa, than about Ms. Ri, whose age is just one of the remaining mysteries. It is not even clear when Mr. Kim and Ms. Ri married, and analysts said they might already have a child.

North Korea’s first family was not always hidden from view. The veil of privacy descended after Kim Jong-il was designated as his father’s successor in the mid-1970s. Before that, state news media carried reports when Kim Il-sung and the woman believed to be his second wife, Kim Song-ae, met foreign leaders.

After it became clear that Kim Jong-il would succeed his father, that woman dropped out of the news, which instead began building a personality cult around his own mother, who had died when he was 7.

Kim Jong-il himself had at least three known wives, but none was ever identified as the first lady. Like his father before him, he also was thought to surround himself with other beautiful young women. For the current leader, all indications so far are that Ms. Ri has no rivals.

Original Article 

In the News – Kim Jong Un stamps his own style on his fantasy kingdom

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In the News – Kim Jong Un stamps his own style on his fantasy kingdom

THESE are unsettling times for watchers of North Korea. Scholars who used to pore over rambling documents on the philosophy of self-reliance are suddenly confronted with strange new questions. Who is the svelte young woman seen accompanying North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong Un? Why were American symbols such as Mickey Mouse, Rocky Balboa and Frank Sinatra featured at a concert that the two attended in Pyongyang this month? And who are the pop stars with miniskirts and electric violins who elicited an elated thumbs-up from the bouncy mini-Kim?

You could almost sense the relief this week when the boffins could get back to Kremlinology and ponder an unexpected overhaul at the top of North Korea’s armed forces. As ever with the Hermit Kingdom, the meaning was mostly guesswork. But the conclusion for the time being is that, superficially at least, Mr Kim is putting a very different stamp on the oppressive regime from that of his secretive and mirthless late father, Kim Jong Il.

The move, though it caused soldiers to dance through the streets of Pyongyang (see photo), suggested to some that Mr Kim may be toning down the “military first” policy that has guided North Korea for years. With the help of his uncle, Jang Song Taek, he may be promoting the primacy of the Korean Workers’ Party instead. So far, the transition seems to have been orderly—previous purges under his father had involved car crashes—but there is enough uncertainty in a nuclear-armed state to leave plenty of concern.

Far clearer is the emerging personal style of the young Mr Kim. Jocular in public, though no great orator, he seems to have no qualms about letting North Koreans gossip about the mystery woman at his side. He is playing on his youth, declaring in a big speech to the party’s gilded children (millions of less favoured youngsters are kept under heel from birth) that they are “treasures more precious than 100m tonnes of gold and silver”. His father barely uttered a sentence in public, let alone released details of his private life.

For now, though, it is purely cosmetic. There are no signs that conditions are improving for North Korea’s repressed citizens. State media still indulges in horrific invective against the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, suggesting that, despite its discovery of American schmaltz, the regime’s attitude remains dangerously paranoid. John Delury, of Yonsei University in Seoul, believes Mr Kim may “shift the priority a bit from security to prosperity”, noting that rapidly increasing trade with China and the illicit import of foreign films are familiarising North Koreans with Western concepts such as higher hemlines. Alternatively, though, they may just be sugar-coated ways of distracting a nation starved of everything else.

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In the News – ‘Mystery woman’ stirs talk of changing times in North Korea

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In the News – ‘Mystery woman’ stirs talk of changing times in North Korea

KRT via Reuters TV North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a pre-school as an unidentified woman stands near him in Pyongyang in this undated image aired that aired on state TV on Sunday.

By Eric Baculinao, NBC News Beijing Bureau Chief

BEIJING – It was her third public appearance by the side of North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong Un. This time the “mystery woman” was wearing a striking yellow polka-dot dress, with a chic Chanel-style white tweed jacket and matching ivory toe-open high heels, in state television footage of a recent visit by Kim to a preschool in Pyongyang.

Her appearance in public again – she is thought to be the same woman who recently appeared with Kim at a Disney-inspired concert – was a rare spectacle, stirring up speculation that changes are coming to the isolated nation.

The “mystery woman,” coupled with the surprise announcement by the country’s official news media on Monday that North Korea’s veteran army chief was relieved of all his posts, apparently due to illness, also stoked suspicion. It was the first major purge under the seven-month-old regime of Kim Jong Un, who inherited leadership of the authoritarian regime after his father died last December.

The intriguing combination of fashion display and military purge is fueling debate among North Korea watchers in Beijing and Seoul on whether or not the moves signal a new policy direction from the Pyongyang regime. Some argue the 29-year-old new leader may be trying to remove old guards from his regime who could stand in the way of a reform program to revitalize the impoverished country.

A wife, a sister?
But back to the mystery woman: who is she? 

There has been no official confirmation of the identity of the glamorous woman who appeared at Kim’s side at three recent public events. She first attracted global curiosity when she was shown watching a July 7 cultural performance with Kim that featured Minnie Mouse and other Disney characters, the theme song from “Rocky 4”and groups of female singers dressed in mini-skirts, high-heeled shoes and off-the-shoulder tops.

KCNA via AP In this photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed in Tokyo by the Korea News Service on July 9, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center right, and a woman clap with others as they watch a performance by North Korea’s new Moranbong band in Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, July 6, 2012.

Other top officials who watched the show included Kim’s uncle Jan Song-Taek, widely seen as the power behind the throne. The concert itself, shown to the public by North Korean TV, tended to play up Kim’s reputation as avid fan of Western pop culture. He was reportedly fond of American basketball when he was studying in Switzerland during the 1990s, wore Nike sneakers and drove Harley Davidson motorcycles.

Some South Korean observers said that the woman could be Kim’s sister, Kim Yeo-Jong. But his sister later appeared on state TV during a mourning event for Kim Jong Il, their father, and she looked unmistakably slimmer and different from the “mystery woman.”

Others pointed to a popular singer Hyon Song Wol, with hits like “I Love Pyongyang” and “Excellent Horse-like Lady.”

But more recent reports from Seoul say that she is Kim’s wife.  She isreported to be a 27-year-old graduate from Kim Il-Sung University. So far, however, there hasn’t been any official confirmation from North Korea on the woman’s identity.

The buzz about the glamorous “mystery woman” comes amid increasing reports, noted in South Korea and China’s blogosphere, of more entertainment and choices in the daily lives of the North Koreans.

Visitors to the isolated country report more women wearing fashionable outfits, young men using hair gels in the style of South Korean actors and private markets in Pyongyang operating more flexible hours.

Kim has lifted the ban on women wearing trousers in public which has proved extremely popular. North Korean TV has also shown images of Kim visiting amusement parks and fast food restaurants that sell pizza, hamburgers and French fries, Western delights once banned in the country.

High-heel shoes rank second among the 10 most popular consumer items for North Korean women, according to an analysis by the Samsung Economic Research Institute.

Close eye from China
North Korea watchers in China are keeping a close eye on developments for any signs of real change in the “Hermit Kingdom.”

The idea of “opening up” the long reclusive country should be encouraged, according to a commentary in China’s state-run Global Times newspaper.

“Northeast Asia’s geopolitical development should encourage North Korea’s opening up instead of repeatedly creating tensions that will only intensify Pyongyang’s caution and vigilance,” argued Global Times commentator Shen Renping.

In one sign of economic change, there have been reports that 20,000 workers from North Korea will be sent to China to work in manufacturing sectors.According to Chinese analysts, Kim is set to declare a comprehensive economic reform program “in August or September.”

Referring to the recent ouster of Kim’s former mentor and North Korean army chief Ri Yong Ho, a Chinese North Korea expert told AP Television that Kim was signaling “North Korea is going to slowly change the policy of putting the military first” and to experiment with “economic reform.”

The Chinese scholar Wang Junsheng called on the international community to “wait for the next steps” and to give Kim “time and a comfortable environment.”

However, another leading Chinese foreign policy scholar urged caution in drawing any conclusions about a North Korean reform program.

“I think North Korea has changed a lot already since Kim Jong Il died. But in terms of policy and diplomacy, I see little indication of change,” Professor Shi Yinhong, who teaches international relations at Beijing’s Renmin University, told NBC News.

Referring to North Korea’s nuclear and security policies, Shi Yinhong cautioned that “it is too early tell” whether North Korea will change.

“I see no substantial indication of opening up…Bringing some women along is very normal and doesn’t have much critical meaning,” he added.

 

Original Article 

In the News – Mysterious woman flanking N.K. leader highly likely to be his wife: gov’t source

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In the News – Mysterious woman flanking N.K. leader highly likely to be his wife: gov’t source

SEOUL, July 15 (Yonhap) — The mysterious woman who has repeatedly been seen closely flanking North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a recent series of public appearances, is highly likely to be his wife, a South Korean government source said Sunday.

“From the protocol point of view, such as this woman’s place and table settings, it is highly likely that she’s his wife and first Chairman Kim must actually be married,” the source said on condition of anonymity, referring to Kim’s title as first chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission.

The unidentified woman first appeared in state media on July 5 when she was seen seated right next to the leader during a music concert. Analysts said at the time she might be either Kim’s wife or a younger sister.

The stylish-looking woman was seen again on July 8 paying tribute to late North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, bowing deeply while standing next to the leader, as uniformed North Korean military officials raised their hands in salute behind the couple dressed in black.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un talks to children during a visit to a kindergarten in Pyongyang as an unidentified woman looks on in North Korean TV footage shown on July 15, 2012. (Yonhap)

On Sunday, the North’s state TV released footage showing Kim bending over to talk to children during the kindergarten visit as the woman, clad in a yellow polka dot dress and a luxurious-looking white cardigan with a stylish hairstyle and high-heeled shoes, looked on next to him.

North Korean officials accompanying the leader were seen standing a few steps behind them.

State media did not identify who she was, but her act was seen as that of a first lady.

Few personal details are known about the young North Korean leader, including his marital status and exact age, except that he studied in Switzerland when he was young. Kim assumed control of the communist nation after his father Kim Jong-il died in December.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, said the woman appears to be Kim’s wife, and the North appears to be releasing the images of her to dispel any misgivings among the North Korean public that their leader is too young.

 

Original Article 

In the News – Who is North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s ‘mystery woman’

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In the News – Who is North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s ‘mystery woman’

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) applauds during a demonstration performance by the newly formed Moranbong band in Pyongyang in this undated picture released by the North"s KCNA July 9, 2012
The mystery woman seen next to Kim Jong-un could be a former pop singer, Hyon Song-wol, reports say

It started with Mickey Mouse.

When North Korea’s state news agency published photos of the country’s leader Kim Jong-un at a concert recently, the first face to catch the attention was on stage.

Amid the dancers and North Korean pop starlets, were a selection of Disney characters – among them Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

And no, the news agencies here in Seoul reported, the North Korean regime had NOT cleared copyright with the Disney Corporation.

It was only hours later that attention switched to another face from that set of photographs – the grainy image of a dark-haired woman sitting next to the young North Korean leader.

The question of who she was, and what she was doing sitting next to the Stalinist regime’s young heir, buzzed through South Korea’s news media.

North Korean media gave no details, but showed her accompanying Kim Jong-un to various state occasions: bowing with him in front of his grandfather’s portrait to mark the 18th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s death, walking with him in a fitted black skirt suit and heels, and sitting next to him during the concert performances.

Screen grab taken from North Korean TV on July 9, 2012 shows an unidentified woman accompanying Kim Jong-Un (C) during his visit to Kumsusan Palace in Pyongyang on July 8, 2012
There was also speculation that she could be his sister Yo-jong, of whom little is known

‘Wife or sister?’

The Hankyoreh newspaper here in the South said one picture taken during the performances showed the mystery woman with her hand on the armrest of Kim Jong-un’s chair.

The normal posture for those in Kim Jong-un’s entourage is to keep their elbows tucked respectfully in.

This, said the paper, indicated that she was either his wife, or his younger sister.

A similar discussion erupted six months ago, when an unnamed woman appeared beside Kim Jong-un during his father’s funeral commemorations.

It is not known whether Kim Jong-un – believed to be less than 30 years old – has married.

But North Korea’s two previous rulers did not routinely include their partners in public events, leading many to conclude that the new mystery woman is a family member.

‘Excellent Horse-Like Lady’

Not South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo newspaper, though. Its headline this week asked “Is Hyon the new first lady of NK?”

The paper identified Kim Jong-un’s companion as Hyon Song-wol, a former singer with North Korea’s Bochonbo Electronic Music Band, whose popularity, it says, peaked in 1995 with her hit song “Excellent Horse-Like Lady”.

Disney characters at North Korean concert
There are also unanswered questions about Kim Jong-un – Disney characters made an appearance at a recent North Korean concert

She reappeared to perform for the new North Korean leader in March this year, says the paper, after six years away from the limelight, during which time she reportedly married and had a child.

An unnamed South Korean intelligence official was quoted as saying that “the two have known each other since they were in their teens, and… rumours about the two having an affair have been circulating among Pyongyang’s top elite”.

If true, Seoul’s rumour mill goes, what does that say about the workings of North Korea’s new leadership – and more particularly, about the mind of its young leader?

Has Kim Jong-un chosen this smart young woman in western dress as his partner? Is he bucking hoary old tradition by appearing with her – perhaps still married – in public?

As usual, windows into North Korea throw up more questions than answers.

For now, ”mystery woman” she may remain.

But then, let us not forget, after six months in power, the man next to her – the heir to North Korea’s closed “Communist Monarchy” – is only slightly less of a mystery than she.

 

Original Article 

In the News – Young general comes out as mother’s boy

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In the News – Young general comes out as mother’s boy

By Kosuke Takahashi

TOKYO – In a risky gamble, Pyongyang is resting its hopes for the survival of the Kim regime on one woman – a dead one at that. Struggling to cement his dynastic credentials, young North Korean leader Kim Jong-eun has launched a mass deification campaign for his mother and the first lady of late leader Kim Jong-il, Ko Young-hee, who is believed to have died in 2004.

Since May, Young-hee has been praised as the “Respected Mother”, the “Great Mother” and “The Mother of The Great Military First Korea”, as can been seen in a film and photographs obtained by Asia Times Online this month from Rescue the North Korean People! (RENK), a Japan-based citizens’ group supporting ordinary North Koreans.

The idolization of Young-hee connects a missing link in the blood-heir’s succession over three generations from the country’s founding father Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il and to Kim Jong-eun.


Ko Young-hee poses with her husband for a propaganda shot

Experts say the deification campaign is part of accelerated North Korean efforts to mythologize and legitimize its revolutionary tradition. Pyongyang’s official accounts claim this originated in the sacred Mt Paektu, the highest peak in the Korean Peninsula and the birthplace, in propaganda accounts, of Kim Jong-il. (Soviet records show that he was actually born in a village in Russia’s Far East.)

The video of Ko does not mention an inconvenient truth – Young-hee was born in Japan – the brutal colonial ruler of Korea from 1910-1945. She was born in the famous Koreatown, Tsuruhashi, in Osaka, in 1952. Her father, Ko Kyung-taek, made Imperial Japanese Army soldiers’ uniforms in a sewing factory during World War II.

“North Korea needs to cover up the fact that Ko Young-hee was born and raised in Osaka,” said RENK spokesman Lee Young-hwa, adding that her family moved to North Korea only in the early 1960s as part of a repatriation program.


The video and photographs stress that Ko Young-hee had a strong relationship with the military.

Sound and vision
The rare 85 minutes of video footage and 93 photographs of Ko Young-hee for the first time reveal her vivid appearance and voice. In the video and photos, she accompanies Kim Jong-il to military camps, factories and farms. She is seen riding a white horse, following her husband on another white horse.

She inspects a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades with Kim Jong-il, with both wearing the same vintage Courreges sunglasses that became trademark apparel for her husband. They murmured words into each other’s ears and smiled. The video shows a very happily married couple.


This image of Ko Young-hee was likely inspired by the Korean song General on a Galloping White Horse.

In one scene, she visits a barrack and expresses concern about soldiers’ daily lives. She tastes a soldier’s home-made donut, then teaches them how to cook a potato-based donut. In the following days, she sends them sugar and cooking oils.

The movie aims to conjure an image of the “Mother of The Great Military First Korea”, which is the video’s title. The movie uses emotional female narration and a rousing musical score in the classic North Korean style of propaganda.

She is also seen holding a gun, suggesting a strong wife who always protects her husband. This was echoed scenes of Kim Jong-suk, or Kim Il-sung’s first wife and Kim Jong-il’s mother, who was a guerilla and communist politician. The images also showed Ko met many dignitaries abroad, stressing her precious role as the first lady.


Ko Young-hee pictured with an unknown foreigner.

The attempts to establish Ko’s authority also stress the Kim dynasty’s heroic family lineage, which stretches back to Jong-eun’s grandfather’s partisan guerilla activities against Japan in the 1930s.

After Ko’s family moving back to North Korea in the early 1960s, she worked as a dancer for the prestigious Mansudae Art Troupe in Pyongyang, where she met Kim Jong-il. She is believed to have died in Paris due to breast cancer in 2004, which the video also does not mention.


Ko Young-hee pictured with a young Kim Jong-eun.

By sanctifying the late Ko, Kim Jong-eun is trying to underscore his authority as the North’s new leader. The efforts also come as the “young general” has been repeatedly seen with a woman who is believed to Hyon Song-wol, a former singer in a popular group called Bochonbo Electronic Music Band.

However, making it tricky for propagandists there are no photos or scenes of Jong-eun with his parents. RENK’s Lee points out that this was because Kim Jong-eun was studying in Switzerland from 1996 to 2002 when the video was made. In contrast, North Korea has shown many photos of Kim Jong-il with his parents, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-suk.

An ugly truth
It is widely known among Japanese experts on North Korea that Ko Young-hee’s father moved from Cheju Island to Japan in 1929. He worked for Hirota Hokojo, a needlework factory under the control of the Imperial Army of Japan. This means Jong-eun’s grandfather was a collaborator with the Japanese imperialists. This can never be revealed by Pyongyang as it might shock the population.

In addition, Young-hee’s younger sister, Ko Young-suk, and her family defected to the United Sates in 1998 in the middle of the nation’s “great famine”, in which millions of people died of starvation. This makes Kim Jong-eun’s aunt a national traitor. According to the South Korean media, Kim Jong-eun himself has given orders to execute any defectors by a firing squad and their families expelled to internal exile.

Sanctifying Young-hee may provide indirect support for her son, but it is a risky ploy. Information on her birth and family may trickle out to the isolationist country, damaging his legitimacy as national leader. Ko Young-hee’s background continues to be one of Kim Jong-eun’s – as well as North Korea’s – dangerously weak spots.

Original Article

In the News – Who Is Kim Jong Un’s Mystery Woman?

Aside

In the News – Who Is Kim Jong Un’s Mystery Woman?

Sister? Lover? Girlfriend? Wife? Speculation is mounting over the identity of a mystery woman and the nature of her relationship with Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader of North Korea, with whom she has been spotted on a number of public engagements. The short-haired woman, dressed smartly in a black suit, is thought to be in her 20s.

The South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo speculates that the woman may be his sister, Kim Yeo Jong. “Born in 1987, Yeo Jong is now in her mid-20s,” an article posted on its website read. “She apparently went to a school in Switzerland along with Jong Un in the 1990s.”

However, South Korean intelligence experts have identified the woman as Hyon Song Wol, the former front woman of the Bochonbo Electronic Music Band and a married mother whom they believe is having an affair with the North Korean leader.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the Bochonbo Electronic Music Band produced several hit singles that were “hugely popular among the North Korean masses,” but Hyon “disappeared from public view at the time that Mr. Kim emerged as the heir-apparent to his father Kim Jong Il.” Hyon reappeared in public to perform at a concert in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, in early March to mark International Women’s Day.

Rumors of the affair have reportedly been circulating for some time. Kim Jong Un is believed to have begun a romance with the singer a decade ago, but was forced to end the relationship by his father. She is then said to have married a North Korean army officer and given birth to his child. Nothing is known of the current whereabouts of Hyon’s husband and child, or whether she even remains married.

However, others speculate that the woman is in fact Kim Jong Un’s wife, a view shared by Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in South Korea, an expert on North Korea, who thinks it highly implausible that the Supreme Leader would so publicly reveal his girlfriend. He told CNN that her presence is likely a part of a carefully constructed campaign to appear “much more approachable, humanlike and soft on people” in order to distance Kim Jong Un from his father and predecessor.

Lankov added that Kim Jong Un “travels much more than his father and even [more] than his grandfather. He likes to hug everybody, physically hug. In this regard it’s probable he decided that it might be a good idea to hint that he does have a wife.” If the woman is his wife, then it would mark a significant departure to the secrecy with which his father and grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, cloaked their personal lives. Lankov noted, “When his grandfather’s first wife, if you like, the founding mother of the dynasty, was alive, her name was never, never mentioned in media. Her existence was never even hinted at.”

Likewise, Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Waseda University in Tokyo and author of a number of publications on North Korean leadership, told the Daily Telegraph, “It is highly possible that this is his wife and that Kim is trying to show a new style of leadership, of a husband and wife, in North Korea.” Shigemura also observed that Kim Jong Un had been uncharacteristically quiet in the weeks leading up to the woman’s sudden appearance.

Earlier this year he engaged in a large number of high-profile appearances, in an attempt to shore up his position as North Korea’s new leader, following the death of his father in December. It is possible, Shigemura said, that his recent silence could be the result of behind-the-scenes preparations concerning how to publicly introduce his spouse.

The mystery woman was first seen with Kim Jong Un watching a performance of North Korea’s Moranbong band at a theater in Pyongyang on Friday. (The performance included the appearance of various Disney characters, which the Walt Disney Co. confirms were used without its permission.) On Sunday, North Korean state TV showed the woman standing beside the Supreme Leader during a ceremony to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the death of his grandfather.

Original Article

Nam-Nam Buk-Nyuh: The Southern Man and the Northern Woman

Joint Defector Wedding

There’s a saying in Korea about “Southern men and Northern women.” Basically, it says that men from the South of the Korean Peninsula are handsome and women from the North are beautiful. My grandmother tells me that way back when, it was favorable for a man from the southern region to marry a woman from the northern region. Apparently, people thought that northern women had the full package. However, lately, it seems that this belief is coming back. Continue reading