Referred to in a KCNA report as the “respected First Lady,” paired with an honorific reserved for respected members of society, the title is a step up from the usual “comrade” that she had previously been afforded.
Others agree that the move is significant.
“In North Korea, nothing is accidental. Each move is choreographed for a reason,” Troy Stangarone, Senior Director, Korea Economic Institute, told CNN.
“The elevation of Ri’s status … help(s) to strengthen the Kim family’s status in North Korea, but also changes the international perception of the regime.”
The wives of North Korea’s two previous leaders, Kim’s father and grandfather, have generally not been given the same status as that accorded to other leaders’ spouses around the world, Stangarone said.
“The title of ‘First Lady’ was last used by North Korea in the 1970s for Kim Il Sung’s wife Kim Song Ae.
“Since then the term “comrade” was used to signify the wife of either Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il.”
Ri’s new title places her “more within Western norms and helps remove some of the old communist vestiges of the past,” Stangarone said.
He added that Kim’s decision to send his sister, Kim Yo Jong, to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February was another sign that the ruling family is intent on changing the optics around its power structure.
In writing up Ri’s Saturday visit to a performance by the visiting National Ballet of China, the state media outlet was reporting on an event that Ri attended without being accompanied by her husband, something that is without precedent. During the visit she appears to have met the head of China’s Communist Party’s International Department.
The apparent shift in policy, in which other members of the ruling family are taking a more visible role, comes as Kim appears to be extending potential olive branches to both foes and allies.
“All of these steps are about reshaping the image of the regime,” Stangarone said.
Source : Nbcnewyork