Kim Yong Nam, the North Korean President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, is helping lead the North Korean delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. The North Korean delegation also includes the sister of Kim Jong-Un.
Kim Yong Nam, though, is not as well known of a figure outside North Korea, which has a lot of people wondering who he is and why Kim Jong-Un would have chosen him for the high-profile honor or, some might say, the duty. He’s been called the regime’s “nominal head of state.” Kim Yong Nam is not the same person as Kim Jong Nam; the latter was the oldest son of former dictator Kim Jong-Il and was murdered in Malaysia.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Kim Yong Nam’s Role Is Largely Ceremonial
One person controls things in North Korea: Kim Jong-un, who is a dictator known for human rights abused. So, what role does Kim Yong Nam hold in the country? He’s basically a figurehead with a titular power but not one in real life.
The former minister of foreign affairs for North Korea, Kim Yong Nam “holds the role of president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s legislative body,” Newsweek reports. “The largely ceremonial position invests him with the tasks of a head of state, such as welcoming foreign officials and nominating ambassadors.”
North Korea confirmed Kim Yong Nam’s participation in the delegation. “A high-level delegation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea led by Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly, will soon visit South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics,” the North Korean government’s news agency said before the Olympics.
2. Kim Yong Nam Will Be the Highest Ranking North Korean Official to Visit South Korea in Recent Times
Although his name might not be known to a lot of people throughout the world, Kim Jong Nam’s presence in South Carolina is important because of how unusual it is. Critics say the North Koreans are trying to use the Olympic games for propaganda purposes. According to The Korea Herald, “The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae welcomed Kim’s visit, saying it showed the North’s willingness to improve inter-Korean ties because Kim is the highest-level North Korean official to visit South Korea since the inauguration of the Moon Jae-in administration.”
According to The Telegraph, Kim Yong Nam is the “highest ranking official ever” sent by the regime to the South. Kim Yong Nam was scheduled to arrive in South Korea on February 8, 2018, the day of the opening ceremonies for the Olympic games. He is leading a delegation of 22 people.
3. Some People Thought Kim Yong Nam’s Arrival Was a Good Sign for Relations Between the Two Country
Although a lot of distrust remains about the motivations of the north, “Given Kim Yong-nam is responsible for summit diplomacy as the head of state by the constitution, the North appears to show some sincerity to the South in its own way,” a presidential official for South Korea told the Yonhap news agency.
In addition to the arrival of the North Korean delegation, the two countries are going to march under a unified flag during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. They will later “be fielding a joint women’s ice hockey team,” according to The Telegraph.
According to Hanyoreh, Kim has a busy schedule for the 2018 Olympics that could bring him face-to-face with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in (and, possibly, American Vice President Mike Pence.) Kim is planning to attend “an official reception presided over by Moon prior to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony on Feb. 9. Kim is also expected to make an appearance at the opening ceremony itself (Feb. 9), a qualifying round game for the inter-Korean unified women’s hockey team (Feb. 10) and a concert by North Korea’s Samjiyon musical performance group at the National Theater of Korea in Seoul (Feb. 11),” the site reports.
4. Kim Yong Nam Is a Former Teacher
An feature story by KCNAon Kim Yong Nam provides some details of his upbringing. It says that he “was born in the Central District, Pyongyang” in 1928.
“After graduating from a university, he worked as a teacher at the Central Party School, vice department director of the WPK Central Committee, vice-minister of Foreign Affairs, and first vice department director, department director and secretary of the WPK Central Committee, vice-premier of the Administration Council and concurrently minister of Foreign Affairs,” the bio says.
He has been president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly since 1998, quite the long tenure for such an unpredictable regime.
5. A North Korean Pop Star & Kim Jong-Un’s Sister Round Out the Delegation
There are two even higher profile members of the North Korean Olympic delegation. One is Kim John-Un’s sister, Kim Yo-Jong. She and her brother are said to be close, and she was recently nominated to the North Korea’s Politburo. Kim Yo-Jong is the daughter of Kim Jong-il and Ko Yong-hui, and believed to be the youngest of seven siblings.
Also causing waves in South Korea: The arrival of the North Korean pop star, Hyon Song Wol caused a stir in the South Korean media when she crossed over the border to help lead an art troupe that is holding performances during the 2018 Winter Olympics. She didn’t have much to say to reporters, though.
“Hyon made no comment as she walked past a throng of reporters and onlookers before boarding an express train at Seoul’s railway station for the eastern city of Gangneung, where her art troupe is to perform during the Pyeongchang Olympics,” reported UK Telegraph.
Wol was in South Korea to lead the “140-member Samjiyon art troupe,” which “will give two performances – one in Seoul and the other in Gangneung, where part of the Games will take place – with Hyon as the leader,” according to The Guardian, which adds, “The group will play folk songs and classic masterpieces that are well known to both countries and fit in with the theme of unification.”
You can read more about Kim’s sister here: