The romantic relationship of Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju

The romantic relationship of Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju

Pyongyang,Sept28:North Korea’s ruling family, however, has been far less forthcoming about the romantic relationships of its leaders, and the dynasty’s newest leader is actually the first to bring his partner, Ri Sol Ju, into the immense spotlight shone by the country on its supreme leader.

Still, very little is known for sure about “Comrade” Ri. She’s believed to be a few years younger than her 33-year-old husband and was first revealed to be Kim’s wife by North Korea’s state-run media in July 2012, days after previously appearing beside Kim at a concert held for the upper echelons of North Korean society and among officials at what would later prove to be her father-in-law’s funeral in 2011. Ri’s sudden, unannounced presence next to Kim prompted mass speculation about her identity in foreign media, and while many questions remain unanswered, experts have done their best to paint a biographical picture of North Korea’s first lady.

RTR35BQ6North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju attend the opening ceremony of the Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground on Rungna Islet along the Taedong River in Pyongyang in this July 25, 2012 photograph released by the North’s KCNA to Reuters on July 26, 2012.KCNA/REUTERS

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Prior to marrying Kim Jong Un around 2009 or 2010, Ri was a professional cheerleader for North Korea’s sports teams and she traveled abroad to Japan and South Korea to support players at international events, according to Micheal Madden, founder of North Korea Leadership Watch and frequent contributor to 38 North, a project of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

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Madden explained that this job, which he said likely linked her to the propaganda wing of the state’s security service, as well as her father’s influential rank in North Korea’s air force, helped her establish the social “pedigree” necessary to be considered a partner for Kim. She’s also related to Ri Pyong Chol, one of Kim’s closest aides and former head of the country’s air force. Madden said that, while Kim was believed to have gone through somewhat of a dating period, the future North Korean leader and Ri were likely matched together by the country’s political elite.

Kim has not abandoned his father and grandfather’s style of absolute rule, and in some ways, enhanced its ruthlessness by allegedly purging high-ranking officials skeptical of the youngest Kim’s leadership. He has, however, displayed a greater willingness to break rank and engage with his population, and observers say his unprecedented step of introducing the public to his wife was symbolic of that.

“It looks almost like a North Korean version of Camelot,” John S. Park, director of the Korea Working Group at Harvard University’s Belford Center for Science and International Affairs, tells Newsweek.

The name is a title commonly given to President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s marriage, which was often depicted with great admiration in U.S. media at the time.

“There’s this idea of a North Korean dream, and Kim Jong Un being the creator of this dream and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, being essentially the face of this dream,” Park added. “This type of dynamic is sort of an analogy for the future of North Korea overall.”

GettyImages-845050874This undated picture released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 10 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (center row 2nd L) and his wife Ri Sol Ju (centre row L) attending an art performance dedicated to nuclear scientists and technicians following the country’s largest nuclear test. Ri has appeared beside the young North Korean leader at a number of high-profile events, but has also disappeared from the public eye for months at a time.STRINGER/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

North Korea, a poor and largely undeveloped state, became the world’s ninth nuclear power in 2006. In the six years since the youngest Kim took over after his father’s death in 2011, Kim has managed not only to improve the country’s ailing economy, but vastly expand its military prowess. In July, North Korea tested its first intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). This historic achievement was followed earlier this month by North Korea’s sixth and by far most powerful nuclear weapons test.

Developing a nuclear warhead-tipped ICBM capable of reaching the U.S. gives North Korea a credible deterrence against being invaded, something Kim and his government have long feared the U.S. was planning to do. Trump has threatened to “unleash fire and fury like the world has never seen” and “totally destroy” North Korea. Kim and his government have launched their own infamously creative insults.

Kim and Trump may share an affinity for name-calling and nuclear weapons, but their similarities don’t seem to extend far past that. Trump, the oldest person to ever be elected president in the U.S., has found great difficulty connecting with the youth and won over voters with slogans evoking a nostalgic image of the country’s past, something North Korea has excelled at as well.

Kim, however, has gone out of his way to appeal to younger generations, not that they had a choice in leadership. Still, on July 2, 2014, supreme leader Kim organized a swimming contest among his navy’s top brass, a move Madden said was designed to bind him with younger soldiers, who saw their usually highly-decorated superiors in nothing but their bathing suits taking orders from an obese Kim.

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