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Kim Jong Un's Younger Sister Will Join North Korea's Olympic Delegation

Feb 7, 2018
Originally published on February 7, 2018 8:49 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For the first time, a member of North Korea's ruling family is visiting South Korea. Kim Jong Un is sending his younger sister to represent North Korea at the Olympics. Her name is Kim Yo Jong. And to tell us about her, Korea analyst Sue Mi Terry joins us now. She's with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Hi There.

SUE MI TERRY: Hi.

SHAPIRO: Give us a quick biographical sketch. How much do we know about Kim Yo Jong?

TERRY: Well, we don't know a whole lot, but we do know that she is Kim Jong Un's younger sister. She's about 30 years old. She's the deputy director of this Propaganda and Agitation Department. She's somebody that Kim Jong Un trusts. She spent most of her life with Kim Jong Un. They were raised together. Even when Kim Jong Un was studying abroad in Switzerland, I think she was attending elementary school there, too. I do think there is a lot of trust there, that obviously - also the fact that Kim Jong Un has elevated her to this role, it shows that he considers her, you know, one of the most, you know, trusted - one of the - you know, one family member that she could absolutely trust. There's another brother, Kim Jong Chul, but he doesn't have any kind of role in the North Korean government. So that shows that he trusts his sister more than anybody else.

SHAPIRO: How powerful is this role that she holds within the government? How influential is she?

TERRY: I think she's pretty influential, not only because she has this Propaganda and Agitation Department, but she's also in charge of all his schedules or his public appearances, all other logistical security arrangements. I mean, that's - Kim Jong Un is a paranoid man, and she's taking care of all of that for him. She's often seen with him in a lot of his public appearances. So, you know, it just shows that obviously he considers her a very close confidant.

SHAPIRO: That phrase propaganda and agitation, does that mean, like, she takes care of agitators, like troublemakers?

TERRY: Not only that. There are - you know, North Korea is all about sort of ideological indoctrination the North Korean people.

SHAPIRO: Right.

TERRY: So it's all of the propaganda efforts. I would even argue North Korea's participation in the Olympics is part of the propaganda effort in a way. It's kind of a nebulous organization, but it's in charge of all of that - ideological indoctrination, propaganda, everything that comes out of North Korea.

SHAPIRO: I wonder what North Korea is trying to do by sending her. South Korea put out a statement saying we believe that the North's announcement of the delegation shows its willingness to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula, while Vice President Mike Pence said we're traveling to the Olympics to make sure that North Korea doesn't use the powerful symbolism and the backdrop of the Winter Olympics to paper over the truth about their regime. So do you think one of those statements is closer to the truth of what North Korea is actually thinking here?

TERRY: I think, you know, Vice President Pence has a point here, but I do also think perhaps maybe Kim Jong Un is sending her because he does trust or maybe she does have a special message that she wants to deliver to President Moon Jae-in, and she is somebody he trusts. But...

SHAPIRO: The South Korean president.

TERRY: Yeah, the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in.

SHAPIRO: Do you expect her role at the Olympics to be largely as a figurehead ceremonial, or could she actually be involved in substantive talks on important issues?

TERRY: I think she has trust of Kim Jong Un, so she could hold meetings, and at least if Kim Jong Un does have any kind of message for President Moon Jae-in - let's say there's a potential for a possible summit - she could obviously deliver that message, a very personal message, from Kim Jong Un to President Moon.

SHAPIRO: But it's just hard to know what he intends.

TERRY: Right. We don't know for now exactly what her role would be.

SHAPIRO: Sue Mi Terry of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, thanks for joining us.

TERRY: Thank you for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.