It's not just international dictator gossip that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his mystery lady seem more and more like a married couple. Analysts are scrutinizing the public appearances for signs for how the young Kim's emerging leadership style will veer away from his father's. Kim once again stepped out with a young woman by his side on Sunday, this time to visit a kindergarten. This is the third time state TV has shown this woman by Kim's side. After state TV showed the two touring a class, with party officials standing respectfully behind the mystery woman, an unnamed South Korean government official offered the widely cited speculation to the Yonhap news agency that, "From the protocol point of view, such as this woman's place and table settings, it is highly likely that she's his wife and first Chairman Kim must actually be married." The West doesn't know much about Kim Jong-un, who took over last year after his father's death, so any glimpse we get -- even just a woman standing beside him on three occasions -- gives analysts a shot to put what might be a kind of scandalous union in the context of their theories about the young guy and the nation's future under him. Here are the reigning points we're seeing:
He's distancing himself from his father
Kim Jong-il had a few wives, but you never saw them appearing with him in public, reports the South Korean paper Chosun Ilbo. Kim the younger, by comparison, has appeared with this woman three times just this month, and the state hasn't even identified her yet.
Other evidence: This is a leading theory for other reasons too. Today brings news that North Korea's top army official, a close confidant of his father, had been dismissed. Last year, when he acknowledged a botched rocket launch, analysts noted that he'd been more candid than his father in the face of failure. In general, "the son, by comparison, appears to be more approachable (photos show him hooking arms with factory workers and soldiers)," writes The New York Times's Choe Sang-Hun, adding, "He has delivered at least two public speeches, something his reclusive father never did."
He's trying to emulate his grandfather Kim Il-sung
The one time a North Korean leader did appear in public with his wife was June 1994 when Kim Il-sung, the founding leader of the regime, met Jimmy Carter in Pyongyang.
Supporting Evidence: Again, it's not just the Mystery Lady. Kim Jong Un has his grandfather's haircut and emulates his speaking style according to Reuters. He claps his hands the same way. And he may have even had plastic surgery to look more like his grandpa.
It signals a 'Glasnost' and opening to the West
Why? This seems willfully optimistic, but news reports emphasize our Mystery Lady's fashion. Yonhap described her as "clad in a yellow polka dot dress and a luxurious-looking white cardigan with a stylish hairstyle and high-heeled shoes." Last week, the woman and Kim looked on together at a concert, where "leggy string players" performed Sinatra and the Rocky Theme as Disney characters danced around the stage. It's also notable that Kim Il Sung trotted out his wife for photographers only on the occasion that a western diplomat, Carter, showed up. That's the face North Korea put on for the West.
Supporting evidence: But why is this woman's "stylish" fashion important? The Times notes that "For weeks now, those analysts have puzzled over photos of women sporting miniskirts and heels in downtown Pyongyang, a stunning change from the years when Western wear was mostly shunned in favor of billowy traditional dresses or drab Mao-style work uniforms." Mystery Lady's heels should be seen in that broader context. Elsewhere, Kim's been sighted at restaurants that sell pizza, burgers, and fries, food that his father never endorsed.
He's signaling his stability
Why? Analysts say that showing the leader with a wife helps address his potential P.R. weaknesses. Cheong Seong-Chang, of South Korea's Sejong Institute, said, according to Agence France, that "By stressing that Kim Jong-Un was a married man with a wife ... the North was trying to create the image of him as a stable leader," one who doesn't appear too young.
Supporting evidence: It's a plausible concern. There was a big push to demonstrate his stability at the outset of the regime transition, and The Telegraph reported in April that North Koreans worried he was too young and that he'd risen too fast through the military.
These theories are of course predicated on the idea that Kim and this woman are in fact married, something the state hasn't yet confirmed. But the theories that assumption spawns -- that he's more open to western culture for instance -- certainly do have their foundation in other facts about the regime. No one denies he and this lady, whoever she is, watched Disney characters dance about as her leader gave a thumbs up. We think it'd be most fun if she did turn out to be the singer of Excellent Horse Like Lady, but as with all things North Korea, the absence of a lot of information makes really any information pretty fascinating. We've got our eye on you Mystery Woman.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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