Vice President Mike Pence was seated just a few feet away from Kim Yo-jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at Friday’s Olympics opening ceremony but did not appear to interact with her. Earlier in the evening, Pence had skipped a VIP dinner where he would have been expected to share a table with North Korea’s ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-nam (no relation to the ruling family).
Dubbed “Kim Jong-un’s Ivanka” by the fascinated South Korean press because of her perceived influence within his government, Kim Yo-jong is the youngest child of former leader Kim Jong-il. She’s about 30, though as with most members of the Kim family, her exact birthday is a bit of a mystery. Last year, she became the youngest member of the Politburo, the top decision-making body of North Korea’s ruling party, and is officially the deputy director of the party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department, responsible for managing her brother’s image.
Her visit for the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, makes her the first member of the Kim family to visit the country since the Korean War. During the opening ceremony, at which the North and South Korean teams marched under a unified flag, she and Kim Yong-nam shook hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, another historic milestone.
Moon has sought to use these Olympics as an opportunity to open dialogue with the North.
The Trump administration has viewed this more warily, worried that North Korea is using the event for propaganda, and is opposing any concessions to the regime unless Kim gives up his nuclear program.
Kim Jong-un didn’t help matters by holding a military parade in Pyongyang on the eve of the Olympics, including the country’s new Hwasong-15 missile. Pence denounced the parade as a provocation, though he also had to fend off questions from reporters about whether the U.S. had ceded the moral high ground given Trump’s stated desire to hold an impromptu military parade through Washington.
Pence has not ruled out the possibility of meeting with North Korean officials while in Pyeongchang. There’s also been some half-joking speculation about America’s own Ivanka, due to attend the closing ceremony, encountering her North Korean “counterpart.”
But the North Koreans don’t seem enthusiastic about the idea of meeting, with one official telling the state news agency, “We have never begged for talks with the United States and it will be the same ahead.” After today, it doesn’t look very likely.