North Korean leader's wife gets title boost - First Lady

An undated photo released by North Korea in 2012 shows Mr Kim Jong Un accompanied by his wife Ri Sol Ju on a visit to a wading pool at the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground in Pyongyang.
An undated photo released by North Korea in 2012 shows Mr Kim Jong Un accompanied by his wife Ri Sol Ju on a visit to a wading pool at the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground in Pyongyang.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEOUL • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has given his young, stylish 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 United States.

Ms Ri Sol Ju has often accompanied Mr Kim on official events but made her first solo public appearance last weekend at a ballet performance by a visiting Chinese troupe.

The North's state media reported the outing, referring to her as the "respected First Lady" - the first time the title has been used in more than 40 years, and with the addition of an adjective usually reserved for the country's leaders.

A former star singer, Ms Ri emerged in 2012 but has had a limited role as Mr Kim's stylish, coy wife. She was previously referred to as "comrade" by the North's state media. Little is known about Ms Ri, who is believed to be 29 and to have three children with Mr Kim, at least one of them a daughter.

Analysts say her promotion is likely to be part of an effort to paint North Korea as a "normal state" as it prepares for summits with South Korean President Moon Jae In next Friday and later with US President Donald Trump.

It also gives her a title matching that of their wives, Ms Kim Jung Sook and Mrs Melania Trump.

"Promoting Ri Sol Ju is the most effective marketing strategy," Dr An Chan Il, a defector researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies, told Agence France-Presse. "The summit is being held as equals, so if Melania Trump attends, Ri will attend."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2018, with the headline 'N. Korean leader's wife gets title boost - First Lady'. Print Edition | Subscribe