Ri Sol-ju, the young wife of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, has made her first public appearance in two months, bringing to an end what might have been a period of “home detention” for being too carefree.
Ri Sol-ju had been photographed earlier this year smiling and strolling about in a casual manner when accompanying her husband Kim Jong-un, the newly appointed leader of the secretive Stalinist state.
But then she disappeared from view, provoking speculation that she might be pregnant but more likely because she was not presenting the dour image promoted by her husband’s late father, Kim Jong-il.
Analysts say that despite the young Kim Jong-un’s appointment as supreme commander of the nation, he is still under the control of the military hierarchy who make sure he presents a rigid, authoritative image to the rest of the world.
That means that his wife must remain aloof and untouchable in the eyes of the masses, say North Korean experts.
But now Ri Sol-ju is back in the public eye and fuzzy TV pictures from North Korea show her enjoying the company of her husband at a football match and a musical concert on Monday.
According to the official KCNA news agency, the couple’s appearance at the concert “drew a thunderous cheer from the audience”.
The couple’s attendance also marked the first public appearance in two weeks by Kim Jong-un himself, raising speculation that he has been receiving behavioral advice from the military hierarchy.
South Korea’s intelligence agency is convinced that the sudden disappearance of Ri Sol-ju from state media since early September is because the nation’s elders had raised an issue over her casual and cheerful demeanor.
“The analysis has been that there was concern over breach of discipline [by Ri Sol-ju] among North Korean elders, plus the speculation of pregnancy,” reported South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper, quoting the National Intelligence Service which had giving a closed-door briefing to parliament.
Photos taken at the concert showed Ri Sol-ju in a long cream coat and what appeared to be a thickening waistline, strengthening speculation that she is pregnant.
It was also being suggested Ri Sol-ju had been kept at home as a disciplinary measure because she had been seen in public not displaying a red lapel pin bearing the image, or images, of the two previous leaders.
All senior North Koreans and any working for the government must wear them.
A pin is not visible in the latest photos of Ri Sol-ju but she might be wearing it under her coat.
If Ri Sol-ju is pregnant and she gives birth to a son the Kim dynasty is assured.
If she has a girl, analysts say the hierarchy will insist she “tries again”.
The South Koreans have carefully studied photographs of Kim Jong-un and his wife, published over four pages in the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper. Facial expressions and the people who accompany the couple are all of vital importance to intelligence-gatherers.
It was last July that North Korea finally put an end to speculation about the young woman seen accompanying Kim Ri Sol-ju at numerous events in and around the capital, Pyongyang.
She was, said state media, his wife – and that announcements was seen as a slight lifting of the veil of mystery hiding events in the country.
But just as it seemed North Korea was lightening its hard, reclusive image, the temporary disappearance of Ri Sol-ju has left analysts wondering if anything has really changed there at all.