Kim Jong-un's sister will be a part of the North Korean Olympic delegation

A key player in her brother's propaganda machine, Kim Yo-jong's presence at the games raises fears and hopes

Published February 7, 2018 12:00PM (EST)

People watch a TV screen showing Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong (AP/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a TV screen showing Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong (AP/Ahn Young-joon)

According to Reuters, Seoul’s Unification Ministry has announced that the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Kim Yo-jong, will be representing the nation when she attends the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea this coming Friday. The younger Kim's presence at the games would mark her most significant public appearance outside of her largely isolated home country.

Still in a state of often uneasy armistice with its democratic southern neighbor, the one-party, totalitarian communist state of North Korea has been laboring simultaneously to improve its nuclear military capabilities and flex them on the world stage while working carefully with South Korea and the International Olympic Committee to create a joint presence at the games between the Koreas. Already, the nation's teams will march together under the same flag at the opening and closing ceremonies and will field at least one combined team (women's ice hockey). Currently, the administration of President Donald Trump is engaged in a bitter feud with the North Korean regime, one that has raised fears of a possible nuclear war.

Into this charged context arrives the 30-year-old Kim, who serves as vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, the messaging, culture and media arm of her brother's ruling Workers' Party of Korea. Kim, it is said, is charged with maintaining and expanding her brother's already considerable cult of personality, a national state of enforced reverence for the leader that sometimes veers into deification.

She will attend the games with Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea and the nation's nominal head of state, and Choe Hwi, chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee.

Given her position in her brother's ruling party, there are legitimate concerns that North Korea could be using its presence at the games as the propaganda opportunity many in the West – and particularly in the United States government — fear it could become.

"What is problematic is that she’s coming with Choe Hwi," Shin Beom-chul, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul told Reuters. "This raises worries that North Korea likely intends to use this Olympics as a propaganda tool rather than a possible opening to meaningful dialogue with South Korea."

The professor noted an upside as well, saying, "One of the positives of her visit is that she is someone able to deliver a direct message on behalf of Kim Jong-un."

Overall, there has been both praise and criticism tied to North Korea's upcoming presence at the games, with some calling its partnership with the South Korean delegation a promising step towards normalized relations between the two countries and the world at large and others, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in particular, framing it as a sham that allows a belligerent dictatorship to legitimize itself.

By Gabriel Bell

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2018 Olympics Entertainment Kim Jong Un Kim Yo-jong North Korea Olympic Games Olympics Politics Sport Sports