SEOUL, South Korea >> With the briefest of remarks, North Korea ended weeks of speculation: The mystery woman accompanying young leader Kim Jong Un to recent public events is his wife, “comrade Ri Sol Ju.”
The confirmation that Kim, who inherited the country from his father, Kim Jong Il, seven months ago, is married came Wednesday night in an otherwise routine TV report about the new leader’s tour of an amusement park. Ri has been seen at Kim’s side in recent weeks at a concert, a kindergarten visit and other events, but state media did not mention her before now, fueling widespread speculation about her identity.
North Korean media showed Kim and Ri smiling broadly at each other, Kim leaning slightly toward her, as they inspected the newly opened Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground, at one point watching a dolphin show.
The news anchor spoke briefly, almost off-handedly, in identifying Ri, but gave no details, including how long she and Kim have been married.
Analysts said the announcement was a calculated move by Kim and his advisers as they forge the image of the 20-something leader who took power following the December death of Kim Jong Il.
“Kim Jong Un is breaking with his father’s secrecy-shrouded leadership,” said Lim Eul-chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University. “The revelation of his wife is a sign that Kim wants to show a more open leadership.”
The couple’s public appearances and Wednesday’s brief marriage announcement are a striking contrast to Kim Jong Il’s style. His 17-year rule was known for its secrecy, and his companions and children were rarely discussed. That includes Kim Jong Un, who was virtually unknown outside North Korea before his formal introduction to the world in late 2010.
The new leader’s methods are considered more similar to his grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, who was often shown alongside his wife, Kim Jong Suk, and with children in his arms.
South Koreans have closely followed the bits and pieces North Korea has released about Kim Jong Un and his companion, including their attendance at a concert where Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters performed, at a memorial for Kim Il Sung and at inspections of various North Korean sites.
The speculation about Kim Jong Un’s private life has coincided with high tension on the Korean Peninsula following a North Korean long-range rocket launch in April and repeated threats by Pyongyang to attack the South.