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Two Koreas’ first ladies visit children’s hospital, music school

The first ladies of the two Koreas carried out their own form of diplomacy, bonding over their shared interest in music and visiting a children’s hospital on the sidelines of the third summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang.

South Korea’s first lady Kim Jung-sook visited the six-story Okryu Children’s Hospital, the only children’s hospital in Pyongyang, at around 2 p.m. and met with four North Korean children and their guardians. She was accompanied by the North’s first lady Ri Sol-ju at the hospital, who was waiting for her South Korean counterpart at the facility beforehand.

They visited a therapy room for children suffering developmental disabilities and an educational center for long-stay patients. 

South Korea`s first lady Kim Jung-sook (front) talks to North Korean children at the Okryu Children’s Hospital in Pyongyang on Tuesday, alongside North Korea`s first lady Ri Sol-ju (back). (Joint Press Corps)
South Korea`s first lady Kim Jung-sook (front) talks to North Korean children at the Okryu Children’s Hospital in Pyongyang on Tuesday, alongside North Korea`s first lady Ri Sol-ju (back). (Joint Press Corps)

Kim Jung-sook also introduced some of the members of her entourage, which included South Korean K-pop artist and rapper Zico. “He is the hottest member of the entourage,” Kim said to Ri as she introduced the rapper.

The two first ladies then visited the Kim Won-gyun Conservatory, a prestigious music school in Pyongyang, to attend a brief choral symphony performance that kicked off at around 4 p.m. The North Korean performers played four songs, including the traditional Korean folk song “Arirang.”

On Wednesday, the South Korean first lady’s itinerary includes a visit to the Mangyongdae School Children’s Palace, a massive facility on the southwestern edge of Pyongyang where North Korean children take lessons in ballet, musical instruments, singing and calligraphy. Its students often perform for foreign reporters and tourists. Former President Kim Dae-jung and his wife, Lee Hui-ho, visited the school in 2000 during the first inter-Korean summit. 

From left: K-pop artist Zico, Ali, magician Choi Hyun-woo, and singer Ailee at Okryu Children’s Hospital. (Joint Press Corps)
From left: K-pop artist Zico, Ali, magician Choi Hyun-woo, and singer Ailee at Okryu Children’s Hospital. (Joint Press Corps)

The two first ladies, who displayed an exceptional rapport during their first meeting at the Moon-Kim summit in April in Panmunjom, are expected to cultivate their relationship further throughout the trip, which runs Tuesday through Thursday.

The first ladies are believed to share a mutual love of music, given their music backgrounds.

Kim majored in vocal performance at Kyung Hee University in Seoul and was part of the Seoul Metropolitan Chorus, while Ri was a soloist with the North’s famous Unhasu Orchestra before her marriage to Kim Jong-un.

North Korea observers have noted since earlier this year that the country’s media now refer to Ri as “revered first lady,” rather than “comrade,” a term customarily used in the North. Ri also accompanied her husband to Beijing in March when Kim Jong-un made his surprise diplomatic debut at his summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

This is the first inter-Korean summit to be held in Pyongyang in 11 years.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)

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