Why Has Kim Jong-un's Wife Been Missing for 9 Months?

Ri Sol-ju, the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has not been seen in public for nine months, sparking speculation and rumors about her whereabouts. She was last seen in public at a Lunar New Year celebration in Pyongyang in January and has continued to miss major events, including an Oct. 10 military parade she would normally attend. Ri often goes months without appearing in public, even going seven months without being seen in 2016.

There are three rumors about Ri's latest disappearance, an anonymous source told Daily NK earlier this week, reports Yahoo News Australia. The first is that she could be taking care of Kim's aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, who is ill. That rumor was spread by people with "quick access to information." Kim has "particular affection" for his aunt, although her husband was executed.

Another rumor is that Ri is in fear of her own health during the coronavirus pandemic. South Korean experts suggest she follows social distancing guidelines and is afraid some people will not wear masks at events. The source also told Daily NK she had made fewer public appearances since her daughter was reportedly born in 2013.

Some rumors speculate Ri has an illness herself. North Korea has claimed publicly there are no coronavirus cases in the country and Kim said the country was free of the virus during a speech in Pyongyang. There was reportedly no social distancing at the event, and no one was wearing masks. However, experts doubt the country has not seen the virus, especially considering its proximity to China, its largest trading partner.

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During his speech, Kim references failures, tearfully apologizing for the struggles the isolated country has faced. "Our people have placed trust, as high as the sky and as deep as the sea, in me, but I have failed to always live up to it satisfactorily," Kim reportedly said, notes The Guardian. "I am really sorry for that.” Kim later added, "Although I am entrusted with the important responsibility to lead this country upholding the cause of the great comrades Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il thanks to the trust of all the people, my efforts and sincerity have not been sufficient enough to rid our people of the difficulties in their lives."

As for Ri, she has often gone missing from public view for months at a time. In October 2019, she was seen for the first time since June, which sparked speculation she welcomed another child. According to the International Business Times, she disappeared for seven months in 2016. Ri is a former singer and reportedly 31.