World News

Who Is Kim Yo Jong, Sister of North Korean Leader?

Posted February 9, 2018 9:48 p.m. EST

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, is due to meet on Saturday with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea in the highest-level contact between the two Koreas in years.

In North Korea’s dynastic system, which upholds the Kim family’s “bloodline” as a sacred leadership qualification, Kim Yo Jong wields singular clout. Here is a look at what is known about her.

An Influential Role

Kim, 30, has emerged as an important player in the government since Kim Jong Un, 34, replaced their father, Kim Jong Il, as supreme leader in 2011. She is believed to be a deputy director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Department of Propaganda and Agitation. The department is responsible for censoring reports in the news media and maintaining the personality cult surrounding the Kim family, which has ruled North Korea as a police state since its founding seven decades ago.

She is the only relative of Kim Jong Un who appears in North Korea’s news media, frequently accompanying her brother at state functions and on tours of military units and factories. She is often seen carrying texts of his speeches or standing in the background, smiling.

Unlike senior generals and party secretaries who cluster around Kim Jong Un taking notes, Kim Yo Jong appears in state news photographs to be able to move about on her own.

The South Korean news media call her “North Korea’s first sister” or “Kim Jong Un’s Ivanka,” likening her influence with her brother to that of Ivanka Trump’s on her father, President Donald Trump. The North’s state news media often show top-ranking officials listening reverentially when she speaks.

Kim Yo Jong was blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury in January 2017 over allegations of involvement in “serious human rights abuses and censorship activities.”

The Family Tree

She is Kim Jong Un’s only sister. They have an older brother, Kim Jong Chol, who has never been seen in the North Korean media and whose role, if any, remains a mystery. He was last spotted at an Eric Clapton concert in London in 2015.

The siblings’ mother was Ko Yong Hui, who was born in Japan but later immigrated with her family to North Korea, where she became a famous singer and dancer. Ko was Kim Jong Il’s third wife; she died of cancer in a Paris hospital in 2004. Kim and her brothers studied in Switzerland as teenagers.

Their older half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, was killed in an airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last February by two women who smeared his face with a nerve agent. The women, who are on trial, were said to have been hired by North Korean agents who analysts said were sent by Kim Jong Un to eliminate a potential threat to his grip on power.

A Historic Meeting

Kim Yo Jong is the first member of North Korea’s ruling family to visit the South since the 1950-53 Korean War. The trip comes at a time of heightened tensions over the North’s nuclear weapons and missile development program.

In 2000, her father, Kim Jong Il, held a summit meeting in North Korea with Kim Dae-jung, then South Korea’s president, but he did not keep his promise to visit the South for a second meeting. In 2007, Roh Moo-hyun, then the South’s president, visited North Korea for the second inter-Korean summit meeting.

It was unclear whether Kim Jong Un was sending a message to Moon through his sister. Moon has said he is willing to meet Kim Jong Un if he is reasonably sure that such a meeting would help end the crisis over the North’s nuclear weapons and missile development program.