SEOUL • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's increasingly influential sister has become one of his closest confidantes in a country where power has always been a family affair.
Ms Kim Yo Jong made history yesterday as the first member of the North's ruling dynasty to set foot in the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
She and her delegation were greeted by government officials, including Unification Minister Cho Myong Gyon, when they arrived at the Incheon Airport.
Smiling and seemingly unfazed by cameras flashing during the airport meeting, Ms Kim wore a black coat and matching ankle boots, and carried a black purse.
The delegation then boarded a bullet train to Pyeongchang. A special train had been prepared just for the visitors from the North, a Blue House pool report said.
The last member of the Kim family to set foot in Seoul was Ms Kim's grandfather Kim Il Sung, the North's founder, after his forces invaded in 1950 and the capital fell.
Three years later, the conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, leaving the Korean peninsula divided by the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone, and the two sides technically still in a state of war.
She must have far bigger capacity than any other North Korean official when it comes to decision-making and policy coordination with the leader.
PROFESSOR YANG MOO JIN , of the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul.
Believed to be aged 30, Ms Kim is one of the three children born to Mr Kim Jong Un's predecessor Kim Jong Il and his third known partner, former dancer Ko Yong Hui, making her a full sister of Mr Kim Jong Un - and like him, she was educated in Switzerland.
She and Mr Kim have an older full brother, Mr Kim Jong Chul, who is reportedly quieter, less ambitious and considered more effeminate by their father, Mr Kim Jong Il.
The sister's existence was barely known to the wider world until their father's funeral, when she was seen standing right behind her brother Kim Jong Un on state television, looking tearful and ashen-faced.
But she was rapidly ushered up the ladder after Mr Kim took the helm, and is now one of the most powerful women in the regime.
"She is one of a very few people who can talk freely about anything with the leader Kim," said Professor Yang Moo Jin of the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul.
"She must have far bigger capacity than any other North Korean official when it comes to decision-making and policy coordination with the leader," he said, adding that she is fluent in English and French.
Her brother is clearly grooming her for higher authority, said analysts.
Ms Kim is currently an alternate member of the Political Bureau of the party's powerful Central Committee, and deeply involved in the party's propaganda operations - an important role.
Women are a rarity in the top political echelons of the deeply patriarchal North, but Kim family members are a prominent exception.
Ms Kim Kyong Hui, the aunt of the current leader, was a four-star general and a senior member of the party before her husband Jang Song Thaek was executed for treason in 2013 and she disappeared from public view.
But Ms Kim has risen to greater authority far more quickly than her once powerful aunt, said Dr Cheong Seong Chang, an analyst at the Sejong Institute think-tank.
She was elected as a member of the Supreme People's Assembly - the country's Parliament - at the age of just 27, almost two decades earlier than her aunt's 44.
The formal leader of the North's high-level delegation to the Winter Olympics is the ceremonial head of state, Mr Kim Yong Nam.
"But Kim Yo Jong will serve as the de facto head of the delegation," said Dr Cheong.
South Korean President Moon Jae In, who advocates dialogue with the North to ease tensions, is due to have lunch with Ms Kim and other delegates today - when analysts expect her to deliver a personal message from her brother. He had also met them at the Games opening ceremony yesterday.
Quoting a number of diplomatic sources, CNN said yesterday there is a good chance she will invite Mr Moon to visit Pyongyang sometime this year, with Aug 15 being touted as a potential date. Both Koreas celebrate the day to mark their liberation from Japan's colonial rule.
But not all in the South are pleased with her visit. Mr Moon's push to use the South's Winter Olympics as a door to open dialogue with the North has drawn criticism from some, who accuse Pyongyang of seeking to hijack the global spotlight on the Games.
"By sending Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un may be putting the final touches on this plan," the South's top-selling, conservative Chosun daily said in an editorial on Thursday.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS