North could use a woman’s touch
The most freewheeling person in Pyongyang these days is Kim Yo-jong. She is the younger sister of Kim Jong-un, first chairman of North Korea’s National Defense Commission, and there seems to be no one who can stop her. Five months ago, when her brother Jong-un attended the opening ceremony of the Nungra Peoples’ Amusement Park, she jumped around from behind the North Korean leader and senior officials of the Workers’ Party and military. Although their aunt, Kim Kyong-hee, a secretary of the Workers’ Party, remained motionless, Yo-jong didn’t care. She probably thought it was funny to see her elder brother giving a military salute. She flashed a big smile and laughed, and her antics were broadcast on Korean Central Television.
The free-spirited Kim Yo-jong was heralded during the memorial ceremony for the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il last December. While Kim Jong-un and other senior officials of the North sat motionless listening to the memorial addresses, she got up to use the restroom. South Korean intelligence officials who analyzed video footage of the ceremony said it was amazing to see such behavior from the younger sister of the leader of the North.
Early last week, she made a comeback, and this time, she was riding a horse. She accompanied Kim Jong-un to his visit to the training field of mounted troops near Pyongyang. The North’s state media released photos of her riding a horse, perhaps to highlight the so-called “Mount Paektu bloodline” of the Kim Jong-il family.
She was riding the horses with her aunt, Kim Kyong-hee, which could also be a message. Observers interpreted it as a signal that Kim Yo-jong will assist her brother’s rule, just like Kim Kyong-hee did for Kim Jong-il.
Perhaps because he was spoiled by aged officials competing to be the most loyal after becoming the leader overnight, Kim Jong-un appeared to be trapped in the sweet taste of power.
During his visit to the training field of the mounted troops, he ordered a horseback riding club for the public, saying, “When you do horseback riding from childhood, you won’t suffer back injuries.” He had no comment on the food crisis, but ordered the shortage of feed for the horses be resolved.
He already ordered a golf range at Nungra People’s Amusement Park. He also ordered the construction of 18 amusement parks in North Korea. Although he assured the people in his first public speech in April that they won’t have to tighten their belts anymore, the promise is expected to become empty words.
During her childhood, Yo-jong studied with her brothers Jong-chol and Jong-un at the International School of Berne in Switzerland. She was exposed to Western culture and has some knowledge of international affairs and the problems of the North Korean regime. Therefore, the world wonders what role she will play in the future.
She must not just become a beneficiary of the third-generation power succession. If so, she will be nothing more than a “military first” princess trapped in the framework of juche (self-reliance) ideology and “military-first” policy. She must give honest advice to her elder brother so he can reform and open up the country for the sake of the North Korean people.
The North’s first lady, Ri Sol-ju, studied in China and is 23, the same as Yo-jong. Would it be too much to expect Yo-jong to cooperate with her sister-in-law to bring about changes in the North?
* The author is a deputy political and international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Young-jong