Sister act: Kim Yo Jong visit dominates South Korea headlines

A friendly face promising better times, or a mask to conceal a brutal dictatorship? South Koreans are divided on Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North’s leader, and her landmark visit to their country.

The first member of the North’s ruling dynasty to set foot in the South since the end of the war, Kim has been an instant object of fascination for South Korean and global media since she rode down the escalator at Incheon airport on Friday, calmly surveying the scene.

She shook hands several times with the South’s President Moon Jae-in, cheered a unified ice hockey team with him, and conveyed her brother’s invitation to a summit in Pyongyang.

Every detail of her visit as the key member of a diplomatic delegation to the South’s Winter Olympics has been scrutinised, from the clothes she wore and her facial expression to the bag she was carrying and even her handwriting.

One calligraphy expert described her as “positive, upbeat and very goal-oriented” based on the precisely angular, somewhat girlish script she left in the guestbook at the South’s presidential Blue House.

Her brother — the third generation of her family to rule the isolated and impoverished North — will be pleased with her international diplomatic debut, said Yang Moo-Jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies at Seoul.

“Kim kept smiling but at the same time was rarely seen having her head down during the visit, even to our president,” he said. “So maybe Kim Jong Un must be applauding at home.”

But reactions among ordinary South Koreans have been more mixed.

“They fired missiles until recently and conducted a nuclear test before suddenly launching this peace campaign,” businessman Kim Byoung-gwan told AFP. “I don’t trust it.”

Others questioned the attention devoted to her.

“All the media in the South and the around the world are going gaga about Kim Yo Jong,” said one commentator online.

“Looks like they would soon join the North’s propaganda media to worship and idolise her.”

Moon has long pushed engagement with the North — which is accused of widespread human rights abuses and subject to multiple sets of UN sanctions over its banned nuclear and ballistic missile programmes — to bring it to the negotiating table.

His approval ratings have fallen since the deal for the North to take part in the Games was struck, with the decision to field a unified women’s ice hockey team proving particularly controversial.

But one of the most widely welcomed moments of Kim Yo Jong’s visit was when both she and the North’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam stood as the South’s flag was raised and anthem played at the Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang.

“I hate Moon and I hate the North,” read an online comment. “But the scene was undeniably impressive. I hope the action came from sincerity for peace, not a fake gesture.”

‘Smirk and sass’

Educated in Switzerland like her brother, Kim Yo Jong has risen rapidly up the ranks since he inherited power from their father Kim Jong Il, and she is now one of his closest confidantes in a country where elite politics have always been a family affair.

Officially she is first vice department director of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, and has a position in its important propaganda operations.

But professor Yang explained her most vital role: “She is one of a very few people who can talk freely about anything with the leader Kim.”

Believed to be aged 30, her existence was barely known to the wider world until Kim Jong Il’s funeral in 2011, when she was seen standing right behind her brother on state television, looking tearful and ashen-faced.

She demonstrated a very different demeanour on her visit than the “deferential” one she does in the North, said Korean Peninsula Future Forum analyst Duyeon Kim.

“Here, she projects Royal Family air, power, nose held high w/slight smirk saying she’s superior over South, & charm w/smiles, sass,” she tweeted.

Beyond the Olympic imagery of togetherness and unity, many South Koreans are openly sceptical.

“The Kim family is a grandmaster of disguise,” said one.

Another declared: “Look at that girl acting like a well-behaving princess. No matter how nice she acts, nothing can sugarcoat all the human rights atrocities under her and her family.”

Agence France-Presse

External source

Mabuza’s ‘distant relative’ scored big

Eskom’s woes are often because of boiler problems at its power plants. R50-billion has been set aside to fix them, but some of the contracts are going to questionable entities

ANC faction gunning for Gordhan

The ambush will take place at an NEC meeting about Eskom. But the real target is Cyril Ramaphosa

Despite tweet, Zuma keeps silent about providing his taxpayer information

The Public Protector has still not received confirmation from former president Jacob Zuma that she may access his tax records —...

Ahead of WEF, Mboweni will have to assure investors that...

The finance minister says despite the difficult fiscal environment, structural reforms are under way to put SA on a new growth path

Press Releases

New-style star accretion bursts dazzle astronomers

Associate Professor James O Chibueze and Dr SP van den Heever are part of an international team of astronomers studying the G358-MM1 high-mass protostar.

2020 risk outlook: Use GRC to build resilience

GRC activities can be used profitably to develop an integrated risk picture and response, says ContinuitySA.

MTN voted best mobile network

An independent report found MTN to be the best mobile network in SA in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Is your tertiary institution is accredited?

Rosebank College is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education, which is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training.

Is your tertiary institution accredited?

Rosebank College is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education, which is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training.

VUT chancellor, Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi, dies

The university conferred the degree of Doctor of Science Honoris Causa on Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi for his outstanding leadership contributions to maths and science education development.

Innovate4AMR now in second year

SA's Team pill-Alert aims to tackle antimicrobial resistance by implementing their strategic intervention that ensures patients comply with treatment.

Medical students present solution in Geneva

Kapil Narain and Mohamed Hoosen Suleman were selected to present their strategic intervention to tackle antimicrobial resistance to an international panel of experts.