The North Korean authorities distributed confidential instructions on April 23 detailing preparations that are to be made for Ri Sol Ju joining her husband Kim Jong Un for the upcoming inter-Korean summit, reports a source inside the country.
Pointing to the material as confirmation of her widely-rumored attendance at the summit, a high-level source in Pyongyang told Daily NK on April 26 that “the April 23 instructions handed down to each government organization included details regarding Ri Sol Ju entering the South Korean side of Panmunjom.”
According to the source, the orders stated, “Our Party, our great Supreme Leader Comrade Kim Jong Un and Respected Madame Ri Sol Ju together will enter the South Korean side of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone (DMZ). In the days surrounding this, make sure to organize and submit detailed reports in secret through our embassies regarding the activities of international press organizations and press members who will be dispatched [to cover the event].”
While the orders may appear to be standard instructions for North Korea in its efforts to track activities it finds threatening, the inclusion of information regarding Ri Sol Ju can be considered a significant revelation.
The wives of the two previous South Korean presidents participated in the inter-Korean summits of 2000 and 2007 and both joined their husbands for the trip to North Korea, but Kim Jong Il’s wife never made an appearance at either event.
This was considered to be related to Kim Jong Il’s more “hermitic” leadership style. While his fourth (unofficial) wife Kim Ok did accompany him on visits to Russia and China, this information was kept out of North Korean media at the time.
Kim Jong Un’s own mother Ko Yong Hui, despite spending 28 years by Kim Jong Il’s side, was largely kept hidden from public view due to sensitive aspects of her background, including the fact that she was born in Japan and was a dancer for the Mansudae Art Troupe.
But times have changed in the Kim Jong Un era. First appearing alongside Kim during a visit to a new amusement park in Pyongyang in July 2012, Ri Sol Ju began to make frequent appearances in state media, even holding onto his arm as they walked together. And she has now received the significant title of ‘Respected Madame’ in state media as well.
Ri then accompanied her husband during his first state visit abroad to China from March 25-28 this year, joining him for banquets and other events alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan. Well-established in her “first lady” role, there should be no reason for Ri not to join Kim for the inter-Korean summit this Friday.
A second source in Pyongyang confirmed Ri Sol Ju’s attendance at tomorrow’s summit, noting, “As an event capturing the world’s attention, Ri Sol Ju’s appearance will lend to the conciliatory atmosphere. Actually, this will be the second time Ri Sol Ju will step onto South Korean soil and it likely won’t attract opposition from the South, so there is also that point to consider.” Ri was previously part of the cheer squad that visited the Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon in 2005.
“Kim Jong Un likely sees his decision to join the summit with Ri as a departure from his father and a chance to appear more open to the world,” he added. “Wanting North Korea to be acknowledged as a ‘normal nation,’ Kim is trying to display a similar [diplomatic] image to other countries.”
Meanwhile, at the time of writing, the South Korean government has not yet officially confirmed the attendance of Ri Sol Ju at Friday’s summit.