Sister of North Korean leader to come to South for Olympics
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, an increasingly prominent figure in the country’s leadership, will be part of the North’s delegation to the South Korean Winter Olympics, officials said Wednesday.
Kim Yo Jong, believed to be in her late 20s or early 30s, would be the first member of North Korea’s ruling family to visit South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Analysts say her inclusion in the Olympic delegation shows North Korea’s ambition to use the Olympics to break out from diplomatic isolation by improving relations with the South, which it could use as a bridge for approaching the United States.
By sending a youthful, photogenic person who will undoubtedly attract international attention during the Olympics, North Korea is also trying to construct a fresher and warmer public image and defuse potential U.S. efforts to use the Pyeongchang Games to highlight the North’s brutal human rights record, experts say.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry said North Korea informed it that Kim Yo Jong, first vice director of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, would be part of the delegation led by the country’s nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam.
The ministry said Kim Yo Jong’s schedule in the South has yet to be determined, and it wasn’t immediately clear whether she will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a liberal who has expressed a desire to reach out to the North.
North Korea said the delegation will also include Choe Hwi, chairman of the country’s National Sports Guidance Committee, and Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the North’s agency that deals with inter-Korean affairs.
Seoul previously said the delegation would arrive Friday, but Wednesday’s statement was the first confirmation that a member of the North’s ruling family would be included.
Kim Yo Jong is believed to be one of Kim Jong Un’s closest confidants and among the very few who has earned his absolute trust. They were born to the same mother, Ko Yong Hui.
She was promoted by her brother last year to be an alternate member of the decision-making political bureau of the ruling party’s central committee, which analysts said showed that her activities are more substantive than previously thought.
The war-separated Koreas are cooperating on a series of conciliatory measures during the Olympics, which the South sees as an opportunity to ease tensions with the North following an extended period of animosity over its nuclear weapon and missile programs. Skeptics think North Korea is trying to use the Olympics to weaken U.S.-led sanctions and pressure against it and buy more time to advance its nuclear weapon and missile programs.
North Korea has 22 athletes competing in the Winter Olympics but also has sent performing artists and a large cheering group.
A decision by North Korea to send the artists by sea has triggered debate in the South, where conservatives see the move as a clear indication the North is trying to use the Olympics to ease sanctions against it.
South Korea is deciding whether to accept North Korea’s request that it provide fuel for the ferry that transported the artists. Seoul exempted the ferry from sanctions to allow it in South Korean waters.
“We will closely discuss with the United States and other related nations the matter of providing convenience to the Mangyongbong ferry so that no problem regarding sanctions would occur,” said Seoul’s Unification Ministry spokesman, Baik Tae-hyun.