Critical Analysis: North Korea Recognizes its First Lady

The Happy Couple (Hello Magazine)
The Happy Couple (Hello Magazine)
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The Happy Couple (Hello Magazine)

In North Korean media, a mysterious woman has been showing up alongside Kim Jong-un.  This woman was seen attending an important gala concert, followed by a kindergarten, and most recently at the inauguration of an amusement park.  However, at this most recent event, North Korean media reported that this woman, now identified as Ri Sol-ju, is in fact the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.  While Kim Jong-un’s father acted previously in a near reclusive dictatorship, Kim Jong-un’s public recognition of his wife is just another sign of continuing policy change for North Korea.

“Secrecy and shadows characterized the 17-year rule of Kim Jong-il,” said John Park, a research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. “In contrast, Kim Jong-un has already shown a pattern of being more open and engaging. He appears to enjoy public events and interacting with children and the common soldier. Many of these recent appearances look like a re-enactment of his grandfather’s mingling with the people in better times.”

The public announcement of Kim Jong-un’s wife was not the first event in changing North Korean politics.  Kim Jong-un was recently seen attending a Mickey Mouse concert, previously seen as a symbol of corrupted western society by his father.  Additionally, Kim Jong-un fired one of North Korea’s military general and removed some economic benefits from the already large army.  Regarding these changes, Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute think-tank believes, “Kim Jong-un’s move appears to give the youth hoping for change, especially young women, a favorable impression of him, although it can make conservative old North Koreans uncomfortable.

Others have noted that Kim Jong-un’s actions may not show such a positive policy change; rather, these changes are meant to help consolidate and recognize power for Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship.  “This is all part of the process of legitimizing Kim Jong Un,” said David Maxwell, a retired U.S. Army colonel who served in South Korea and now is associate director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies in Washington. “I think all the events of late, from the purge of General Ri Yong Ho to the marriage announcement, is all about elimination of opposition and consolidation of power among the elite while establishing Kim Jong-un’s reputation as the leader of the Party, the Army, and the people.”  However, regardless of the reasoning behind North Korea’s policy changes, at least some positive benefit is reaching the people on the transfer of power to Jim Jong-un.

Brad Bossenbroek is a rising third year law student at the University of Denver and a Publishing Editor on The View From Above.