According to North Korea Leadership Watch, a blog run by frequent 38 North contributor Michael Madden of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, Kim Yo Jong was born September 26, 1987. This would make the 30-year-old four years younger than Kim Jong Un, who was believed by Madden and the U.S. government among others to have been born January 8, 1984.
Kim Yo Jong is believed to be the youngest child of late North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Il’s mistress Ko Yong Hui, an ethnic Korean dancer who was born in Japan and, as a child, moved to North Korea about a decade after the devastating three-year war with its U.S.-backed southern rival. Ko Yong Hui was believed to have met Kim Jong Il after he had already been married once and had one son, Kim Jong Nam, and one daughter, Kim Sol Song, with separate women.
Kim Yo Jong Full Biography and Profile
She went to school in Switzerland. Like her older brothers, Kim Yo Jong attended school in Bern, the Swiss capital. She attended the Liebefeld-Steinhölzli public school, the same school as Kim Jong Un, for several years and lived in a modest apartment nearby. She went by the alias Pak Mi Hyang and is thought to have enjoyed ballet lessons while in Bern. (Kim Jong Chol was “Pak Chol” and Kim Jong Un was “Pak Un.”)
Kim Jong Il doted on his youngest daughter, according to Kenji Fujimoto, a Japanese sushi chef who worked in the royal household for years. He called her “sweet, sweet Yo Jong” and “Princess Yo Jong.”
She showed political potential from an early age
Kim Yo Jong is thought to have returned to North Korea in 2000 or 2001, at the same time as Kim Jong Un. It is not known where she went to high school, but she is thought to have completed special classes at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. As early as 2002, Kim Jong Il proudly told foreign interlocutors that his youngest daughter was interested in politics and wanted a career in North Korea’s political system, according to the North Korea Leadership Watch blog.
Konstantin Pulikovsky, who was Russia’s envoy to the Far East and visited North Korea frequently during the Kim Jong Il era, also said that Kim Jong Il identified Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong as showing an interest in and aptitude for political life. Kim Yo Jong was considered “quick-witted and showing good leadership skills,” Pulikovsky told the Japanese public broadcaster NHK in 2012.
She first appeared in public at her father’s funeral
Kim Yo Jong wasn’t seen in public for a decade after her return to Pyongyang. She made her debut in the North Korean media when she appeared among the mourners at Kim Jong Il’s funeral at the end of 2011.
In the intervening years, she is thought to have been groomed for a leadership role by her aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, who performed the same supporting role for her own brother, Kim Jong Il, as Kim Yo Jong now does for Kim Jong Un.
Kim Yo Jong carried out her behind-the-scenes work for her father and brother and is thought to be the woman pictured with them in a grainy photo taken in 2009, which briefly appeared on North Korean television.
She began helping establish Kim Jong Un’s hereditary succession campaign in 2010 and 2011, working in the National Defense Commission and Kim Jong Il’s personal secretariat, according to North Korea Leadership Watch.
She is modeling herself on her aunt
In 2012, North Korea’s state television channel broadcast footage of her riding a horse with her aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, to coincide with Kim Jong Un’s visit to the Korean People’s Army equestrian company. Kim Kyong Hui disappeared from the public eye in 2013, when her husband, Jang Song Thaek, was executed for trying to build an alternate power base to rival Kim Jong Un. She is thought to still be alive, but ill.
Kim Kyong Hui was a member of the powerful political bureau of the ruling Workers’ Party, and last year Kim Yo Jong took her aunt’s place there.
Both women were promoted to help their brothers, former CIA analyst Jung H. Pak said after Kim Yo Jong’s promotion last year. “She’s supporting him. You know she’s not a leader in her own right,” Pak said.
She is in charge of protecting and promoting her brother’s image
Kim Yo Jong is officially deputy director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the communist organ that runs the state. In this role, she makes sure that Kim Jong Un is presented as a strong leader and that everything runs smoothly.
She was seen working during a big parade in Pyongyang in April last year, rushing out from behind pillars to bring paperwork to her brother. She also appeared on stage with him during the opening of a landmark construction project in the capital, Ryomyong Street, where she was dressed in a functional black suit and appeared to be coordinating photographers and other logistics.
Blood is thicker than water in North Korea’s bizarre personality cult, and Kim Jong Un clearly trusts his full-blooded sister most of all.
So could she one day be leader?
In a word, no. North Korea adheres to highly Confucian — hierarchical and male-dominated — rules that would make it impossible for her to govern. “She can’t be leader. She’s a female,” said Lim Jae-cheon, a Kim family expert at Korea University in Seoul.
But she has an important role to play. “Kim Yo Jong is very influential,” Lim said.
That role will only become more important as she travels to South Korea on Friday during the 2018 South Korean Winter Olympic, where she is likely to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in — and possibly even encounter the vice president of the United States, Mike Pence.
She will definitely be mobbed by South Korean media when she arrives, but we can also expect South Korean intelligence to try to pick up every detail it can. After Kim Jong Nam, the older half brother of Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong, was killed in Malaysia last year, details of efforts to collect intelligence on him emerged. Alex Hwang, the owner of a Korean restaurant in Kuala Lumpur that Kim Jong Nam sometimes visited, said he would send dishes and cutlery used by Kim Jong Nam to the South Korean Embassy for DNA testing.
Do we know any personal details about her?
As with many other figures in North Korea’s opaque leadership, little else is known about Kim Yo Jong. Some South Korean and Japanese newspapers have reported that she is married to a finance official, the son of senior official Choe Ryong Hae, and that they have at least one child. Another report has it that she fell in love with a bodyguard. And another says she is single and childless. She has, however, been seen with a band on her wedding ring finger. Beyond that, we can’t be sure of anything.
Dr. John Park, director of the Korea Working Group at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, suggested Kim Yo Jong’s diplomatic debut, made possible by Kim Jong Un’s overture to South Korea during a New Year’s speech was part of Kim Jong Un’s efforts to give his government a more youthful, approachable makeover. South Korean officials have warmly received Kim Yo Jong, drawing attention away from even North Korea’s nominal head of state, 90-year-old Kim Yong Nam.
Park said Kim Yo Jong has defied early speculation “that she was a lightweight or somewhat insignificant” and has instead proven to be part of Kim Jong Un’s “new generation” of leadership. Kim Jong Un—who became the first North Korean leader to introduce his wife, Ri Sol Ju, to the public in 2012—has managed to improve the economy modestly and achieve never-before-seen military advances, despite increasingly tight sanctions against his country because of his nuclear weapons program, missile tests and reports of widespread human rights abuses.
These accomplishments, seen as a deterrent to a potential U.S. invasion, along with Kim Jong Un’s endeavor to make himself out to be the reincarnation of his revered grandfather in North Korea’s glory days, has reportedly had the desired effect among North Koreans. By sending Kim Yo Jong to the Winter Olympic Games, Kim Jong Un has presented a preview of what Park called “North Korea version 3.0.”
“It’s a very optimistic time in North Korea,” Park added. “There’s a feeling of prosperity and hope.”
– Kim Yo Jong Biography and Profile (WP / News Week)