- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Call it a North Korean soap opera — “the Jong-un and the Restless,” perhaps.

North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, has Asia analysts in a tizzy over his appearance with a young woman in a little black skirt.

Is she his wife, his sister, his North Korean pop-singer girlfriend? Nobody outside of the secretive, communist, nuclear-armed country — and precious few within it — knows for certain.

North Korea watchers are not even sure of her name.

The mystery woman appeared twice in public with the 20-something North Korean dictator last weekend, once at a concert with pirated Mickey and Minnie Mouse characters and again at a commemoration of the death 18 years ago of the nation’s founder and Mr. Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung.

Her appearance is significant, analysts say, because wives and other relatives rarely appeared in public with past North Korean leaders.

“It took some 15 years for his grandfather to even mention in public that he was married,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea specialist at South Korea’s Kookmin University. “The personal background of his father, Kim Jong-il, was never ever made public” during his 17-year reign.

A softer image?

The new dictator has “moved very rapidly to demonstrate that he’s in charge” since taking over from his dead father in January, said Bruce Bennett, a North Korea analyst at the Rand Corp., a think tank with historic links to the U.S. military.

Kim Jong-un has done so, in part, by “doing things a little differently than under his father,” Mr. Bennett said.

Mr. Lankov said the mystery woman’s appearance at Mr. Kim’s side was part of a deliberate effort by the supreme leader “to project a new, softer image” to his people.

“He talks to people. He hugs everybody. I mean, a very unusual frequency of physical contact with his subjects,” Mr. Lankov said.

North Korea’s state-controlled media broadcast footage of the short-haired young woman in a dark Mao jacket and knee-length skirt accompanying Mr. Kim at his grandfather’s mausoleum and earlier at the faux-Disney concert.

But she was not identified, and South Korean media have published various theories about who she might be.

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that she is Mr. Kim’s younger sister, Kim Yo-jong. Others noted that a different woman, who stood behind Mr. Kim during his father’s funeral last year, had been identified as Yo-jong.

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