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Kim Jong Un's wife makes 1st public appearance in a year

Aditya Sharma
February 17, 2021

Ri Sol Ju had not been seen with the North Korean leader for some time. Her absence fueled speculation about her position in the hierarchy and the Kim family.

Kim Jong-un and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, watch a performance at Mansudae Art Theatre in Pyongyang
Ri Sol Ju joined her husband at a concert commemorating the birthday of his father and predecessor Kim Jong IlImage: Yonhab/picture alliance

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's wife appeared in public on Wednesday for the first time in over a year, pictures released by the state media showed.

Ri Sol Ju was seen along with her husband at an event commemorating the birthday of Kim's late father and former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

The state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun published photos of the pair smiling, surrounded by loyal members of the Workers' Party, as they celebrated one of the biggest holidays in North Korea.

Why had Kim's wife been out of public view?

Ri was last seen in public in January 2020, at an event celebrating the Lunar New Year holiday in Pyongyang.

Her year-long absence from view stoked speculation over her health and potential pregnancy.

"Another suggestion is that the relationship between Ri and Kim is bad and that they are not spending time together, or perhaps Kim has decided that his wife was attracting too much attention for her clothes and hairstyles," said Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo's Waseda University.

"That is not the sort of thing that works for a dictator in a country that is so male-dominated as North Korea," he told DW.

South Korea's state intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) told lawmakers on Tuesday that Ri seems to be avoiding public activities as a precaution against coronavirus infections, news agency Yonhap reported.

The NIS added that she appeared to be spending time with her children and that "no unusual signs have been detected."

The agency believes that Kim and Ri have three children, but little is publicly known about them.

No mask, no social distancing

Unlike previous events, neither the first couple nor other party officials were seen wearing masks or maintaining social distance in the pictures published by Rodong Sinmun.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, watch a performance at the Mansudae Art Theatre in Pyongyang on Feb. 16, 2021.
None of the people attending the event, including Ri Sol Ju and Kim Jong Un, were seen wearing masks or maintaining social distance.Image: Yonhab/picture alliance

North Korea claims to have had zero coronavirus cases but experts believe an outbreak cannot be ruled out.

One of the reasons being that the country's border with its key trading partner China, where the virus first emerged last year, was open right up to the end of January.

Yonhap news agency contributed to this report.