July 6, 2012: In this photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed in Tokyo by the Korea News Service on Monday, July 9, 2012, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center right, and a mysterious female companion clap with others as they watch performance by North Korea's new Moranbong band in Pyongyang, North Korea.AP/KCNA VIA KNS
It appears that the mystery surrounding the beautiful woman seen beside North Korea’s young strongman Kim Jong-un has been solved.
Meet the new Mrs. Kim, a former cheerleader — or so it seems.
The woman, identified as Ri Sol-ju, appeared comfortable in the presence of communist leadership and was even seen accompanying Kim two weeks ago as he paid tribute to his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the founding father of North Korea, on the anniversary of his death.
These things are watched very closely on the Korean peninsula as anybody photographed with the youngest Head of State in the world is likely to be moving up in the secretive power circles in the communist state.
Usually the people around him are very elderly Generals and party officials rather than young ladies.
Some suggested the woman was, in fact, his younger sister because the woman had attended a state occasion with him.
Others were more mischievous suggesting the woman was his mistress, a singer he dated years before and had now come back on the scene.
While North Korea initially kept quiet about her identity, speculation accompanied every appearance the couple made on state TV.
While usually the leader of North Korea is seen visiting austere places like tractor factories, Kim and Ri were filmed and photographed watching a live performance which bizarrely included a cast of Disney characters.
Who was this woman who seemed to like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck?
Well, North Korea finally gave up one of its major state secrets.
The couple was seen visiting a soon-to-be completed amusement park in Pyongyang and the state broadcaster announced:
"While a welcoming song was playing, our party and people's supreme leader, Marshal Kim Jong-un, came out from a ceremony of the completion [of a "pleasure ground"] with wife, Ri Sol-ju."
No other information was given such as when they got married, though South Korea’s intelligence service believes the couple married in 2009 and have since had a child.
So who is Ri Sol-ju?
The National Intelligence Service told a South Korean parliamentary committee that Ri was born in 1989 to what they described as an “ordinary family.”
The briefing also revealed she attended an arts school in Pyongyang, and even traveled to China to take singing classes.
And South Korea’s spooks also believe she visited South Korea back in 2005 and was a member of the North’s cheering squad that supported the country’s athletes at a competition there.
According to the South Korean Chosun Ilbo newspaper she was even interviewed at that time at a gathering of South and North Korean students and was quoted as saying she was “deeply moved” to see young students gather to sing songs about reunification.
Ri may be described as coming from an “ordinary” family by the South Korean intelligence services, but its clear from her trips abroad she was trusted by the regime and didn’t attempt to defect.
The NIS says it believes the North Korean regime decided to show the couple in public so as to project a “stable image” to the outside world of Kim as a leader.
Now the world waits to see if North Korea’s new young leader will find maturity now that he is married so that he can deal with his country’s stand-off with America and its allies over its nuclear weapons program while at the same time deal with a country in which many of its people remain impoverished by the policies of his father and grandfather.