How Kim Yo Jong signals a change in North Korea’s strategy

This week’s visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong, who is now said to be the vice-director of the state Propaganda and Agitation Department, marks the first visit to South Korea of a member of the ruling Kim family since the Korean War. While Kim Il Sung’s younger brother Kim Yong Ju was scheduled to visit the South in 1972 following a diplomatic visit to Pyongyang by South Korean Central Intelligence Agency Director Lee Hu Rak, the North sent Premier Pak Song Chol instead, citing various logistical issues with sending Kim Yong Ju. 
Such a visit would have been quite significant considering that Kim Yong Ju was understood to be the number-two person in the North at the time. Kim Yo Jong may not technically hold the same power as her great uncle did in 1972, but some experts believe that Kim Jong Un relies heavily on her for advice and that her visit should thus be considered significant. Furthermore, undertaking a potential risk to her personal safety in traveling to the South, among other logistical issues, is a sign of a breakthrough in North-South relations.
And she surely serves as an excellent representative for the North. While Kim Jong Un is perceived to be a poor-mannered, unrefined, and arrogant “spoiled child,” Kim Yo Jong does not evoke a similar “rich kid” image. Rather than sporting expensive clothing and handbags like Kim Jong Un’s wife Ri Sol Ju or Samjiyon Orchestra leader Hyon Song Wol, Kim Yo Jong dresses more conservatively. It remains unknown whether her wardrobe is carefully selected in this regard, but the effect is clear.
In a video of Kim working with her brother, her mannerisms also appear more refined and polite. If all of this is said to be staged, then it can be concluded that she has displayed a surprising level of natural savvy in her role. Additionally, if Kim Jong Un did not place an immense amount of trust in his sister, he would not have sent her to the Olympics, particularly considering her young age and lack of experience. 
While Kim Sol Song (half-sister of both Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong) continues to be a key power figure and confidante to Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jong’s visit to the South and impressive composure signals her own rise.
North Korea chose to hold a large military parade on February 7 – one day prior to the Pyeongchang Olympics opening ceremony – rather than on its usual date in April. However, the parade was not broadcast live on television, no foreign journalists were invited to cover the event, no new weapons were seen, and the event ended after just an hour and a half. In times of heightened tensions with its adversaries, the North typically seeks to display more internal strength. These actions suggest that the North sees the opportunity surrounding the Olympics as important. 
In support of this strategy is that while North Korean music groups have played South Korean songs during performances in the South before, they appear to have taken an even lighter approach this time, considering the set list of songs performed by the Samjiyon Orchestra.
With Kim Jong Un’s invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae In to visit Pyongyang, it is clear that the North is in the middle of a significant change to their approach. But because the North will not give up its nuclear weapons and the South will not back down from international sanctions, it will be challenging for the two sides to achieve any fundamental improvement in relations. Despite this, having done away with unrealistic expectations, the current positive steps towards better relations may prove valuable. 
There are lingering concerns that Kim Jong Un is taking advantage of the South’s openness, but many still hope that this may lead to real change in the North. Nevertheless, the South must not violate international sanctions throughout the journey toward warming relations, and the South must hinge its actions on the condition that the North demonstrate to the world its efforts toward meeting international norms. 
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