Behind North Korea’s powerful siblings Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong hide two mysterious husbands


It was a marriage of power, and like all dynastic weddings, it was all sensational.

A nationally recognized singer with an eye for fashion designers and an ambitious young man determined to prove his worth would be the perfect union to help secure the future of a regime in power for decades.

But whether Kim Jong Un’s marriage to Ri Sol Ju was arranged or speeded up after his father’s stroke, the match cemented more than just a union.

This showed that he now had a beautiful young wife to produce heirs and carry on the dynastic rule.

And while Kim Jong Un’s own marriage has been featured in all North Korean media, that of his younger sister and closest confidant, Kim Yo Jong, remains shrouded in mystery.

And that’s exactly how the regime wants it to stay that way.

The mystery of Kim Jong Un’s love life

Before coming to power, it was rumored that Kim Jong Un was dating another famous North Korean singer, Hyon Song Wol.

The pop star, famous for hits including A Girl on a Steed and I Love Pyongyang, got involved with the future leader upon his return from his studies in Switzerland.

But amid rumors that his father Kim Jong Il disapproved of the match, Hyon Song Wol quickly disappeared from public view.

In her place emerged Ri Sol Ju, who caused a stir when she burst onto the scene as Kim Jong Un’s wife.

Little is known about her, but it has been reported that she was a competitive cheerleader and Unhasu Orchestra singer from a prominent North Korean family.

Ri So Ju is said to have married Kim Jong Un in 2009, just months after her father suffered a debilitating stroke.

But it wasn’t until three years later that she made her public debut, chic in peep-toe pumps and a Dior handbag.

Kim Jong Un is believed to have married Ri Sol Ju in 2009, but they didn’t make their public debut until 2012. (Korean Central News Agency via Reuters)

“Ri Sol Ju’s appearance – his short haircut, his Western attire – was very sensational in a traditional society like North Korea,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee, a non-resident 38 North Stimson Fellow. Center.

While the young ruler’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, often showed up with his second wife at diplomatic events, his father was always solo in public, according to Ms. Lee..

“Everything about Ri and the way she was treated by state media was a sensation and extremely unusual,” Ms. Lee said.

State media even presented her as the wife of comrade Ri Sol Ju.

Whether it was a romantic marriage or an alliance between two prominent families, there was no doubt that Kim Jong Un and Ri Sol Ju were North Korea’s star couple.

North Korea is a land of symbolism, ”said Leonid Petrov, Australia’s leading expert on North Korea.

“Any marriage is a matter of survival among the elite.”

Children who may or may not inherit the throne

If there was ever a reason to keep pregnancy and children a secret, North Korea knows the best way to go about it.

It is understood that Kim Jong Un and Ri Sol Ju have three children, two daughters and a son, although their existence has never been officially confirmed by North Korea.

Kim Jong Un sits in a crowded theater next to a woman in a cream and black costume
Ri Sol Ju was considered an unusual political bride due to her Western fashion and shorter hairstyle. (Korean Central News Agency via Reuters)

“Dictators keep private information close to their chests,” Dr Petrov said.

“Ordinary people only know what is written in the newspapers, and usually nothing is written there.

“This is why there are more rumors and speculations than hard facts.”

In a patriarchal society like North Korea, Kim Jong Un is likely considering his son to take over.

“Kim Jong Un is suspected of having a son, so it’s probably around him that they would build a long-term plan,” said Jenny Town, Senior Fellow at the Stimson Center and director of its 38 North program.

“Or if he ends up having more than one son, there might be competition over time.”

But if the reports are correct, Kim Jong Un’s children are not yet old enough to rule.

For a dynastic ruler who is only around 37, this shouldn’t be a problem.

But with her mysteriously shrinking waistline and penchant for cigarettes, cheese and whiskey, the need for a short-term succession plan has often been discussed.

If Kim Jong Un were incapacitated over the next several years, the elite would have little choice.

Favorite girl

Former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is said to have had at least six children.

His favorite was not his successor son, but his little girl.

Kim Yo Jong stares sternly at the camera against a blurred green background.
Kim Jong Il’s youngest child, Kim Yo Jong was rumored to be his favorite, but was overlooked for his brother. (AP: Jorge Silva)

Being born a girl meant that Kim Yo Jong was never the first choice for the top position.

“It was reported that Kim Jong Il viewed Kim Yo Jong favorably and said if she was a man she would be next on the list,” Town said.

“Those who know her say that she is very intelligent but also very shy. But would she be if she were a man?”

And while Kim Yo Jong was pictured alongside her brother and even represented him on the international stage, she had her part to play.

“Korea is a traditional society and they put women in certain roles,” said Dr Petrov.

“Her sister is from the Mount Paektu line, so the same pedigree as her brother, but she is not his equal.”

Kim Jong-un and sister Kim Yo-jong at 2019 Korean-American summit
Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, is widely regarded as one of his closest advisers. (Reuters)

While she was splashed in the North Korean and Western media thanks to her diplomatic visits on behalf of her brother, Kim Yo Jong’s personal life remained under scrutiny.

Her announced marriage to Choe Song, the second son of powerful government official Choe Ryong Hae, has long been the subject of rumors, but has never been confirmed.

It’s also possible that she is married to Woo In Hak, from a middle-class family and a former student of Kim Il Sung University.

The lack of clarity is on purpose, according to Dr Petrov. There can only be one star in North Korea, and that is Kim Jong Un.

“The marriages [and] children will only be made public when Kim and the powerful elite decide to make it public, ”Dr Petrov said.

“It’s also a question of security.

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Dr Petrov said it was unlikely that a child of Kim Yo Jong would be made public as it could solidify his lineage as a viable succession plan.

Kim Jong Un has already shown how ruthless he can be with any competition.

He is said to have ordered the assassination of his own half-brother Kim Jong Nam – the oldest boy in the family and once touted as a potential successor.

He also allegedly executed his aunt’s husband.

“Apparently Kim not only had her uncle executed, but all the children in her extended family as well. It wiped out the lineage completely,” said Dr Petrov.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sits at table and applauds South Korea summit
The Kim family maintained a grip on power for three generations. (Korea Summit Press Pool / Reuters)