|First Lady of North Korea|
15 April 2018
|Supreme Leader||Kim Jong-un|
|Preceded by||Kim Song-ae|
1985–89 (age 28–33)|
|Spouse(s)||Kim Jong-un (m. 2009)|
|Children||Kim Ju-ae and possibly 2 others|
|Alma mater||Kim Il-sung University|
|Revised Romanization||Ri Seol-ju|
Little is known about her from official North Korean sources but outside sources have speculated more about her background. She is believed to have three children, though this is not known for certain. She has appeared numerous times in public with her husband. In April 2018, her title was elevated in state media from merely "comrade" to "respected first lady", considered a significant honor and the first time the title has been used since 1974.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his family have been characterized as "secretive". Very little information about Ri Sol-ju has appeared in official North Korean sources, but more speculative information has been reported in foreign media.
In 2012, Ri made several public appearances standing next to Kim Jong-un, causing speculation about who she might be. South Korean intelligence officials tentatively identified her as Hyon Song-wol, a former singer for the Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble, a musical group popular in North Korea. However, on 25 July 2012, North Korean state media announced that she was actually Kim's wife, saying she was "his wife, Comrade Ri Sol-ju".
In July 2012, at an elite gala concert in North Korea, Ri was stylishly "dressed in a trim black suit in the Chanel tradition", considered unusual for North Korean women. Along with other recent changes, such as the firing of a hard-line top general, Kim Jong-un's marriage is seen by analysts as "a continuation of what is either a policy change, or a propaganda offensive, or both".
Kenji Fujimoto, the former personal sushi chef of Kim Jong-il, said he met Ri on a recent trip to North Korea. He described her as "just so charming... I cannot describe her voice, it's so soft..." As a parting gift, Ri gave Fujimoto a Christian Dior handbag, which Ri was earlier reported to have.
From 2012 to 2014, Ri appeared occasionally in the North Korean media, accompanying her husband to events, but subsequently she has rarely been seen. She had long periods out of the public view in 2015, 2016, and 2017. On March 28, 2018, China Central Television showed videos of Ri visiting China with her husband, and there meeting Chinese President Xi and his wife.
In April 2018, Ri's title was elevated to "respected First Lady", the first time since 1974 the title had been used in North Korea, when it was used about Kim Song-ae. Ri was previously called by state media "comrade"; the promotion occurred ahead of the 2018 inter-Korean summit where Sol-ju and the First Lady of South Korea, Kim Jung-sook, were in attendance.
Very little is known for certain about Ri; some analysts have even said her name "almost certainly is a pseudonym". Various security analysts, politicians, media and others have made public claims about her that have not been officially confirmed in North Korean media.
Ri's reported year of birth has ranged between 1985 and 1989 among various sources. Ri's family is reportedly from the political elite; her mother is the head of a gynecology ward and her father is a professor. She is said to have graduated from Geumsung 2 Middle School in Pyongyang and studied abroad in China majoring in vocal music. She is said to be related to Ri Pyong-chol, a former air force general and close advisor of Kim Jong-un. JoongAng Ilbo and some commentators have identified Ri as a singer in the Unhasu Orchestra that has made several overseas performances. Reportedly, North Korean officials are "trying to erase her past as a singer and entertainer by confiscating popular bootleg CDs of her performances", such as her singing the song "Sobaeksu". She is reportedly a graduate student at Kim Il-sung University, pursuing a PhD in science.
Ri reportedly visited South Korea in 2005, as a member of the North Korean cheerleading team during the Asian Athletics Championships. She was said to be among 90 cheerleaders who chanted "We are one!". Ri reportedly told a South Korean teacher while on the trip: "We want to take classes from the South's teachers after being reunited as soon as possible."
The BBC, quoting an analyst who spoke to The Korea Times of South Korea, reported that Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, had hastily arranged his son's marriage after suffering a stroke in 2008. The two were reportedly married in 2009.
Pregnancy and motherhood
In October 2012, there was speculation about Ri's public disappearance, and questions arose whether it was the result of a "breach of discipline" or "pregnancy", but she later reappeared with her spouse Kim at a military college. It was followed by news reports in December 2012 that Ri was visibly pregnant, although North Korean officials did not comment on the speculation. In March 2013, former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman visited Kim Jong-un in North Korea and on his return told the British tabloid newspaper The Sun that Ri had given birth to a healthy daughter. One South Korean government source speculated that "doctors induced labor to make sure the child was born in 2012, which marked the 100th anniversary of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung", but no exact birth date has been confirmed. Rodman told The Guardian in September 2013 that the couple's child, a girl, is named Ju-ae (Chosŏn'gŭl: 김주애). and that Jong-un had "a beautiful family" and was a "good dad."
South Korean intelligence officials reported that Ri gave birth to a third child of unknown gender in February 2017.
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- Kim Jong-un 'Has 2 Daughters' Chosun 16 May 2013
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- Media related to Ri Sol-ju at Wikimedia Commons
Title last held byKim Song-ae
| First Lady of North Korea