Sunday 23 September 2018

Kim's sister steals the show at Winter Games

Visit fuels rumours that North leader has sent a special personal message

US Vice President Mike Pence and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony. Photo: Getty Images
US Vice President Mike Pence and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony. Photo: Getty Images

Nicola Smith

South Korea was mesmerised yesterday as Kim Jong-un's younger sister landed in his personal jet at Seoul's state-of-the-art airport en route to the Olympics opening celebrations.

Poised, relaxed, and flanked by reportedly armed bodyguards, Kim Yo-jong walked confidently past throngs of reporters, occasionally casting an enigmatic smile at the live TV cameras.

People dressed as Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump at the Olympics opening ceremony. Photo: Getty Images
People dressed as Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump at the Olympics opening ceremony. Photo: Getty Images

Ms Kim is the first member of her family to visit South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War, amid moves by both sides to try to revive meaningful communication and perhaps end the international standoff over its nuclear programme.

Ms Kim and the country's 90-year-old nominal head of state Kim Yong-nam are scheduled to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in today in a lunch at Seoul's presidential palace.

For many in South Korea, the Kim Yo-jong sideshow has eclipsed the glamour of the Winter Olympics. For Ms Kim, her surprise first international appearance at centre stage confirms that her star is on the rise.

Believed to be about 30, she is no longer lurking in the shadows of her elder brother, the world's most feared dictator. Now she has been entrusted to represent the regime on his behalf.

As the youngest child of former leader Kim Jong-il, she was first spotted in public at his funeral in 2011. North Korea analysts then struggled for years to establish the identity of the young woman who moved freely behind Kim Jong-un at major public events.

It emerged that they shared the same Japanese-born mother, Ko Yong-hui. According to the 'Washington Post', Japanese sushi chef Kenji Fujimoto said that Kim Jong-il doted on his daughter, often calling her "Princess Yo-jong".

The siblings are believed to be particularly close because they attended the same private school in Switzerland at the same time.

Michael Madden, a North Korea expert who contributes to Johns Hopkins University's Korean studies site in Baltimore, in the US, told ABC news that they lived in the embassy under an alias.

"They were portrayed as the children of the domestics, the maid and the gardener," he said.

Before sealing her position in the heart of the pariah nation, Ms Kim is said to have been well-travelled and even been on a shopping trip to Paris. She allegedly attended an Eric Clapton concert in Singapore in 2011.

But she appeared to move closer to the reclusive regime's centre of power after her uncle, Jang Song-thaek, was executed and her once powerful aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, disappeared from public view in 2013.

In recent years she has been tasked with more serious matters of state.

As a senior figure in the regime's powerful propaganda department, she attempted to craft her brother's image as a benevolent leader.

Ms Kim drew global attention again late last year when she was promoted to the ruling politburo, the country's top decision-making body.

As one of her brother's most trusted aides, Ms Kim will today have lunch with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the leader of a country with which her own is still technically at war.

Although it may only be a photo-op or a chance to exchange pleasantries, the visit from Kim family royalty is so unprecedented that many speculate she may have been entrusted with a special personal message.

While neither Kim Yo-jong nor Kim Yong-nam are among the North Korean officials blacklisted under UN sanctions, the US Treasury Department last year included Ms Kim on its list of blacklisted officials over her position as vice director of the ruling Workers' Party's Propaganda and Agitation Department.

The UN committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea has proposed granting an exemption for North Korean senior official Choe Hwi, who has been on the UN sanctions blacklist since last June.

© Daily Telegraph London

Telegraph.co.uk

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