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Kim Yo Jong

Meet North Korea's princess of propaganda, the family member who has Kim Jong Un's ear


She's been compared to Ivanka Trump and called North Korea's "princess" by some in the media, but there is much more behind North Korea's Kim Yo Jong than meets the eye.

At approximately age 30, Kim has shot through the ranks of the North Korean regime to become a close adviser to her brother, current dictator Kim Jon Un. But in the South, she has been seen less as a savvy politician actively enabling a brutal regime, and instead is something of a media darling. Ms. Kim stole the show during the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympiad, becoming one of the most talked about figures during her trip to South Korea. She even was able to overshadow Vice President Mike Pence.

"It’s an odd situation where you have a country, North Korea, that’s been developing nuke weapons in contravention of UN sanctions appearing quite well," said the Michael Bristow, the BBC's Asia-Pacific editor, according to The Atlantic. "And a country like America, which has been the staunch ally of South Korea, coming across as quite badly."

Pence did his best to avoid Kim, most notably during the opening ceremony, despite sitting just rows away from her. Where Pence ensured America's staunch opposition to North Korea's relentless provocations, Kim offered a gentile, though considerably rehearsed, image of friendliness. Between her amicable statements on cooperation and her nearly robotic politeness, Kim Yo Jong appeared to captivate her South Korean hosts, and most importantly - their officials.

"I wish I could see you again in Pyongyang soon," Kim told South Korean President Moon Jae In during a luncheon. "I wish that Your Excellency President will leave a mark for future generations by playing a key role in opening a new chapter for reunification."

Those may sound like the typical sentiments of any diplomat, but keep in mind, they came from a woman whose country just over a month ago appeared hell-bent on reigniting the Korean war.

But the remarkably high tension of the past year appeared to be on pause, as Kim chatted with Moon at a performance and watched the joint Korean women's hockey team. Moon, for his part, appeared to return the kind gestures, but kept a cautious attitude toward North Korea's motives. Others were outraged by the situation, leading to protests.

"I thought she looked so arrogant. Is she really in a position in which she can lift up her chin?" said Ji Seong Ho, a North Korean defector and human rights activist, during an interview with reporters. "Until last year [North Korea] was threatening South Koreans to make a sea of fire and start a war. They should show minimum courtesy at least and feel sorry."

None of Kim's charm should come as a surprise when it comes to Kim Yo Jong, or North Korea. In fact, its right out of her father's playbook.

Every once in a while, when Kim Jong Il was really feeling the brunt of international sanctions, he would offer some kind of olive branch to the world. These gestures were usually simple, sometimes even just statements, but they often worked. North Korea would ramp up tensions with a missile test, threats to destroy America, or even some kind of attack, the international community would respond in kind, and then the regime would make a gesture to get something. Rinse and repeat.

"North Korea's charm offensives tend to be more offensive than charming," Bruce Klinger, the CIA's former deputy division chief for Korea, told Circa in an interview. "So it was sort of a two-page playbook. Raise tensions, then offer to reduce tension back to the status quo, but in return for something."

Kim Jong Un hasn't unleashed a charm offensive of his own, but using his sister makes some sense. The two are reported to be remarkably close, with a relationship dating back to when they were educated in Switzerland as children. But more importantly, Kim Yo Jong is the product of North Korea's top propaganda office, aptly named the Worker's Party Propaganda and Agitation Department. She eventually took control of the department in 2015, and is believed to be responsible for orchestrating her brother's cult of personality. Moreover, she's one of the only Kim family members who has his ear.

It's unclear what North Korea might want in return for their sudden change of heart, if anything. But we do know North Korean television expressed Kim's approval for his sister's performance shortly after she returned home.

Circa's Justin Covington contributed to this report.

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