North Korea's first lady Ri Sol-ju has been grabbing the spotlight with her frequent public appearances with her husband Kim Jong-un since she was first spotted by the international press in July. The North Korean leader has made 23 public appearances since then, and she has accompanied him to 15.
She has been spotted wearing the same watch as Kim (Aug. 29), eating popcorn with him (Sept. 1) and wearing pants (Sep. 2), long considered taboo among women in North Korea.
A government source here attributed Ri's frequent appearances as a means of overcoming the drawbacks of the leader's young age. "Kim's greatest weaknesses are his lack of leadership experience and the perception that he is just a kid," the source said. Kim was born in 1984.
"The fact that he keeps appearing in public with his wife, while keeping his age under wraps is part of a strategy to make him seem more mature."
Her appearances seem the product of careful planning by the North Korean propaganda machine. According to another government official on Sunday, Ri began to accompany Kim on public events in May, around two months before she was first spotted by the international media at a concert.
A photograph distributed by the official KCNA news agency on May 1 shows her standing behind Kim, just a few steps from Kim next to late leader Kim Jong-il's widow Kim Ok.
"The photo was taken by mistake by a KCNA reporter," the official said. Ri is wearing the same black, two-piece outfit she wore to the concert in July.
Ri is likely to become more influential than Kim Jong-il's wives, who were never seen in public. Kim Song-ae, nation founder Kim Il-sung's second wife, wielded tremendous power in the 1970s and clashed with Kim Jong-il.
An informed North Korean source said it was Ri's idea to feature Disney characters and the theme song from the Sylvester Stallone film "Rocky" during the July concert. It looks like Ri already has enough power to break taboos.