Kim Yo-jong gets place at the table at inter-Korean summit: What we know about Kim Jong-un's sister

Nicola Smith
The Telegraph
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong attend a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Peace House - REUTERS
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong attend a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Peace House - REUTERS

Kim Jong-u's younger sister took a prominent place at the negotiating table for the first North-South Korea summit in more than a decade, cementing her public role as Kim's closest confidante and possibly the second-most powerful figure in his ruling regime.

Kim Yo-yong, believed to be 30 years old, emerged as the most visible figure in the Kim regime after her brother when she became the first member of the ruling North Korean family to travel to the South, in early February for the Olympics.

She was right by his side on Friday as well, walking across the line that divides the two Koreas with his delegation and joining him for the first round of talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

The only other North Korean official present was former intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol, the top cadre in charge of relations with the South.

It is the latest high-profile appearance for Kim Yo-jong after she attended the Winter Olympics in the South in February as Kim's envoy.

<span>North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, walks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his sister Kim Yo Jong&nbsp;</span> <span>Credit: AP </span>
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, walks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his sister Kim Yo Jong  Credit: AP

Ms Kim was the first member of her family to visit South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War, amid moves by both sides to try to revive meaningful communication and perhaps end the international standoff over its nuclear programme. 

For many in South Korea, the Kim Yo-jong sideshow eclipsed the glamour of the Winter Olympics. For Ms Kim, her surprise first international appearance confirmed her star was on the rise.

Believed to be about 30, she is no longer lurking in the shadows of her elder brother, the world’s most feared dictator. Now she has been entrusted to represent the regime on his behalf and to stand by his side at the biggest diplomatic event between the two Koreas in years.

As the youngest child of former leader Kim Jong-il, she was first spotted in public at his funeral in 2011. North Korea analysts then struggled for years to establish the identity of the young woman who moved freely behind Kim Jong-un at major public events.

It emerged that they shared the same Japanese-born mother, Ko Yong-hui. According to the Washington Post, Japanese sushi chef, Kenji Fujimoto, said that Kim Jong-il doted on his daughter, often calling her “Princess Yo-jong”.

<span>North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, signs a guest book next to his sister Kim Yo Jong</span> <span>Credit: AP </span>
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, signs a guest book next to his sister Kim Yo Jong Credit: AP

The siblings are believed to be particularly close because they attended the same private school in Switzerland at the same time.

Michael Madden, a North Korea expert who contributes to Johns Hopkins University’s Korean Studies site, told ABC news that they lived in embassy under an alias.

“They were portrayed as the children of the domestics, the maid and the gardener,” he said.

Before sealing her position in the heart of the pariah nation, Ms Kim is said to have been well-travelled and even been on a shopping trip to Paris. She allegedly attended an Eric Clapton concert in Singapore in 2011.

Korea summit | Read more
Korea summit | Read more

But she appeared to move closer to the reclusive regime’s centre of power after her uncle, Jang Song-thaek, was executed and her once powerful aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, disappeared from public view in 2013.

In recent years she has been tasked with more serious matters of state. As a senior figure in the regime’s powerful propaganda department, she attempted to craft her brother’s image as a benevolent leader.

Ms Kim drew global attention again late last year when she was promoted to the ruling politburo, the country’s top decision-making body.

<span>North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un (L), sister Kim Yo Jong (R) attend the Inter-Korean Summit&nbsp;</span> <span>Credit: Getty </span>
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un (L), sister Kim Yo Jong (R) attend the Inter-Korean Summit  Credit: Getty

As one of her brother’s most trusted aides, Ms Kim had lunch with Mr Moon in February during the Olympics.

During the event, she personally delivered her brother's invitation for the South Korean president to a landmark summit “at the earliest date possible”.

After much negotiatation, that historic meeting  is taking place on Friday in the Demilitarised Zone. 

Kim Jong-un's family tree
Kim Jong-un's family tree

While neither Kim Yo-jong nor Kim Yong-nam are among the North Korean officials blacklisted under UN sanctions, the US Treasury Department last year included Kim Yo-jong on its list of blacklisted officials over her position as vice director of the ruling Workers' Party's Propaganda and Agitation Department.

The UN committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea has proposed granting an exemption for Choe, who has been on the UN sanctions blacklist since last June. 

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