North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un confirmed by state media to be married to woman named Ri Sol Ju
Details about Ri Sol Ju remain unavailable, leading to rampant speculation in South Korean media
Marriage announcement part of trend of greater openness under Kim Jong Un, according to experts
North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un married 23-year-old Ri Sol Ju in 2009, according to a South Korean lawmaker on Thursday.
The curiosity over Kim’s wife started several weeks ago when North Korean state television and news agencies showed video footages and pictures of an unidentified woman attending official events by Kim’s side.
The name of the mystery woman was only announced Wednesday as Ri Sol Ju by North Korean state television.
Details about her remained unknown until Jung Chung-Rai, a South Korean lawmaker from Democratic United Party, attended a closed-door intelligence session by National Intelligence Service (NIS), which is equivalent to the CIA in the U.S.
“Ri attended Geumsung’s Second Middle School before going to China to study singing,” Jung said.
“She previously visited South Korea as a member of North Korea’s cheering squad for Asian Athletics Championships in 2005,” he said.
Whether the couple has a three-year-old child as some Korean media reported earlier has not been confirmed by the intelligence service, Jung added.
There had been two prevailing theories circulating about the woman, who made her first appearance accompanying Kim Jong Un in his father’s funeral in 2011.
Some identified her as Hyon Song-wol, a popular singer who is a member in a musical group that sang “horse-like lady”.
South Korean media previously speculated that Hyon previously dated Kim and eventually married a military officer. It was rumored that Kim later forced the couple to split in order to restart his relationship with Hyon, and they now have a three-year-old son together.
Others identified the woman as Ri So Ju, a singer in the Unhasu Orchestra, a group said to be favored by Kim Jong Un, and has made several overseas performances. It was speculated that Ri hails from an elite family, with her father working as a professor and her mother as an obstetrician.
Nevertheless, not much is known about Kim’s wife, in the reclusive country known for its impenetrability from the outside world.
The announcement is part of a trend of greater openness under the recent leadership of Kim, according to Choi Jong Kun, associate professor at Yonsei University in South Korea.
Kim became the third generation of his family to head North Korea, following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December. He is the youngest son of Kim Jong Il and thought to be in his late twenties. His father had ruled North Korea for 17 years after inheriting power from the country’s founding father, Kim Il Sung.
The wives and mistresses of the leaders were often shrouded in mystery.
“Since he got his power, this guy has been pretty different than his father in terms of handling the media,” said Choi. “To me, revealing his wife’s identity is no surprise,” he added, given the country’s recent track record of making information available about major state events.
Choi cited North Korea’s reporting of its rocket launch failure in April as an example. The term “failure” was used in the official press release, which Choi said was the first time North Korea admitted failure.
He added that the announcement came four hours after the launch attempt, which Choi considered “real-time” for North Korea.
Choi also pointed out the military reshuffling earlier this month was reported overnight. Not only does this demonstrate greater openness, but also that Kim has a “strong power base” and does not need to bury such news, he said.
He attributed the more open approach to Kim’s education in Switzerland.
“I expect that next week Kim will announce a son,” Choi joked.