Kim Jong-un’s wife Ri Sol Ju
Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong
One sports a Christian Dior handbag and favors Western clothes. The other carries a notebook and wears dark uniforms. These fashion opposites are the two most influential women in North Korea.
While Kim Jong-un’s wife Ri Sol Ju and younger sister Kim Yo-jong are currently allies in sustaining one of the world’s most reclusive leaders, their overlapping influence makes them potential rivals in a regime where family ties aren’t strong enough to protect against Kim’s penchant for purges.
“Uneasiness is inevitable in a relationship like this,” Kang Myong Do, a son-in-law of North Korea’s former Prime Minister, Kang Song San, said by phone. “The wife wouldn’t like it if her husband got too close to his sister; the sister wouldn’t like it if her brother got too close to his wife.”
Citing conversations with people who have been in the room with both women at the same time, Michael Madden, editor of the North Korea Leadership Watch blog, said the two appeared friendly to each other as they sat at opposite sides – Ri with her husband and Kim with senior party officials.
Kim Yo-jong chooses to remain in her brother’s shadow at public events.
Still, Kim Yo-jong “has a lot of control over who has access to her brother, what they say to him, what documents they hand over – in short, she is a combination gatekeeper and traffic cop,” said Michael Madden, editor of the North Korea Leadership Watch blog.
She joined her brother in handing out awards to troops at an air force competition in May and that suggests she commands the party’s Organization and Guidance Department, which handles everything from promotions to purges, Cheong Seong Chang, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute near Seoul, said in an e-mail.
Kim was born to the same Korean-Japanese dancer, Ko Yong Hui, as Kim Jong-un. In February 2011 South Korean broadcaster KBS showed what it identified as Kim Yo-jong and her other brother, Kim Jong-chol, enjoying an Eric Clapton concert in Singapore.
Yonhap News said January 2 Kim married one of party secretary Choe Ryong Hae’s sons, citing two people in China it didn’t identify and a photo of her wearing a ring. Dong-A Ilbo newspaper rebutted the report days later.
The younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has made an official debut of sorts. Kim Yo-Jong, believed to be 26, accompanied her elder brother to a polling station on Sunday when North Korea held stage-managed elections to its rubber stamp parliament.
It was not her first appearance. She was shown on state television in 2011, tearfully standing next to Kim Jong-Un as they attended the funeral of their father and former ruler Kim Jong-Il.
Since then she has occasionally been seen accompanying her brother on his “field guidance trips”.
Sunday’s outing was different as she was, for the first time, officially listed by her name and as a “senior official” attending the voting function along with several top party and army luminaries.
Ahn Chan-Il, head of Seoul-based World Institute for North Korea Studies, said Kim Yo-Jong was being groomed to play the same supporting role as her very influential aunt. “Kim Jong-Un and Kim Yo-Jong will work in a similar way as their father and Kim Kyong-Hui did in securing the future of the Kim dynasty,” Ahn said.