SEOUL, South Korea — The only sister of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, will visit South Korea this week, the first immediate member of the North’s ruling family ever to set foot in the South, officials said on Wednesday.
Kim Yo-jong, Mr. Kim’s younger sister and a key player in his secretive regime, will arrive in South Korea on Friday as part of North Korea’s 22-member government delegation that will attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics later that day. The North Korean delegation’s three-day itinerary includes a meeting with President Moon Jae-in of the South.
Her bloodline gives her an unmatched status among North Korean elites. She is also considered Mr. Kim’s closest relative. The South Korean news media call her “Kim Jong-un’s Ivanka,” likening her influence with her brother to that of Ivanka Trump’s on her father, President Trump. The North’s state news media often shows top-ranking officials listening reverentially when Ms. Kim speaks.
And she will be coming to a spectacle that is also drawing Vice President Mike Pence, who will be at the opening ceremony Friday, and Ms. Trump, who is expected at the closing ceremony. The gathering is prompting speculation about some previously unthinkable get-togethers.
The North’s delegation is officially led by Kim Yong-nam, the 90-year-old president of the Presidium of the North’s Parliament and the country’s nominal head of state. But being a sister of Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s “monolithic” leader, Ms. Kim will become the focus of intense attention.
It remains unclear whether Ms. Kim or any other North Korean official will be carrying any message to Mr. Moon from Mr. Kim. The South Korean president has been eager to use the North’s Olympic participation as a way to ease tensions spurred by its nuclear and missile tests in the past year.
Ms. Kim, 30, has emerged as an important player in her brother’s government since Mr. Kim replaced their father, Kim Jong-il, as supreme leader in 2011. She is believed to be a deputy director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Department of Propaganda and Agitation, a key post in the propaganda-heavy totalitarian state.
She is the only relative of her brother’s who appears in North Korea’s news media, accompanying her brother in state ceremonies or in his “guidance tours” of factories and farms. She is often seen carrying texts of Mr. Kim’s speeches or standing in the background, smiling and even frolicking, while other senior grim-faced officials stand close to Mr. Kim in reverence and fear.
In October, she became the youngest member of the Politburo, the main decision-making body of the party. She sat in the front row of a leadership platform in a party meeting in December.
Mr. Kim has an older brother, Kim Jong-chol, who has never been seen in the North Korean media and whose role, if any, remains a mystery. He was last spotted at an Eric Clapton concert in London in 2015, but little else is known of him. Ms. Kim and her brothers studied in Switzerland as teenagers.
Kim Jong-un’s older half brother, Kim Jong-nam, was killed in an airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in February last year by two women who smeared his face with a rare nerve agent. The assassins, who are on trial, were hired by North Korean agents who analysts said were sent by Kim Jong-un to eliminate a potential threat to his dynastic grip on power.
Outside officials and analysts consider Ms. Kim the pre-eminent female face of the Kim family, which has ruled North Korea since its founding seven decades ago. Her father, Kim Jong-il, also allowed his own sister, Kim Kyong-hui, to hold prominent jobs in the government until his death in 2011. But she disappeared from view after her husband, Jang Song-thaek, was executed in 2013 by Kim Jong-un on charges of plotting a coup.
“Although Kim Yong-nam is the official head of the delegation, it will be Kim Yo-jong who will decide its activities,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, South Korea. “By including his sister in the delegation, Kim Jong-un may want to show his interest in improving ties with South Korea.”
Word of Ms. Kim’s visit came as Vice President Pence warned North Korea that it would face a new round of tougher sanctions.
“The United States of America will soon unveil the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever — and we will continue to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile programs once and for all,” he said Wednesday while visiting Japan.
But a day earlier, Mr. Pence had stirred speculation about a possible meeting with North Korean officials, saying, “I have not requested a meeting, but we’ll see what happens.”