The wife of Kim Jong-un has not been seen in public for seven months prompting speculation that she is either pregnant or perhaps has fallen out of favor.
Experts monitoring the situation in Pyongyang have suggested Ri Sol-ju, who was introduced as First Lady in 2012, may have fallen out with Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, who is increasingly regarded as the power behind the throne. Kim Yo-jong was put in charge of North Korea’s Propaganda and Agitation Department last year and is responsible for building up her brother’s cult of personality.
Ri was last seen on a tour of a new commercial district and health complex in Pyongyang on March 28 March of this year, South Korean news agency Yonhap News reported. In contrast Kim Jong-un has frequently been seen touring the country and hosted the country’s first party congress in 36 years in May.
Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University who focuses on the Pyongyang leadership, said: “There are several possible reasons, including that she is pregnant or that there is some sort of problem between the two of them. There have also been reports of instability in Pyongyang and rumors of several attempted attacks, including by factions in the North Korean military, against Kim last year. So it is also possible that Ri has not appeared in public because she is being closely guarded.”
In 2012, Ri disappeared from public view, prompting speculation that she had fallen out of favor or was pregnant. It was later revealed that she gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter, sometime in late 2012.
On the other hand, Kim Jong-un is not above disposing of those closest to him if they fall out of favor. He executed his uncle, Jang Sung-taek, after finding him guilty of treason despite their relationship being reportedly close beforehand. Announcing the execution, Kim Jong-un denounced him as “human scum worse than a dog” for an alleged attempt to introduce reform.