SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — State media anchor Ri Chun Hi is one of North Korea’s most famous voices after announcing the country's major events of past decades — among them nuclear and missile tests and the death of a leader — in a resounding, booming voice filled with emotion.
The anchor dubbed abroad as the “pink lady” for her bright, traditional attire was the topic of official North Korean media herself Thursday after leader Kim Jong Un gave Ri a luxurious residence and asked her to continue to vigorously serve as the voice of his ruling Workers’ Party.
Experts say Kim is trying to boost his support from elite North Koreas while the country deals with pandemic hardships and a diplomacy stalemate.
“(Kim) said it is the sincerity of the party that there is nothing to spare for the treasures of the country like her who has worked as a revolutionary announcer for the party for more than 50 years since her girlhood,” the official Korean Central News Agency said. Kim expressed “expectation that she would as ever vigorously continue her work in good health as befitting a spokeswoman for the party.”
Kim met Ri at a newly built riverside terraced residential district that was inaugurated Wednesday in Pyongyang. KCNA said houses in the district were presented to Ri and other people who have given distinguished service to the state.
Friday is the 110th birthday of Kim’s late grandfather and state founder Kim Il Sung. It’s the most important state anniversary in North Korea, which has been successively ruled by three generations of the Kim family since its foundation in 1948. The new housing area is where Kim Il Sung’s official residence was located until the 1970s.
“By giving houses to those who have been faithful to him, Kim Jong Un would want to further bolster their royalty and internal unity,” said Moon Seong Mook, an analyst with the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy. “Ri Chun Hi is a clear example of such people as she’s strongly propagated his nuclear and missile tests and served as a sort of bugler for him.”
KCNA said Kim looked around Ri’s house with her Wednesday and took an unspecified step to prevent her from suffering any inconvenience "while going up and down the stairs."
Ri, who is about 79, said she felt her new house was like a hotel and that all her family members “stayed up all night in tears of deep gratitude for the party’s benevolence,” according to KCNA.
Ri joined state TV in the early 1970s, when the country was still governed by Kim Il Sung, and she has gradually become the face of the country’s propaganda-driven news broadcasts.
Her close ties with Kim were shown during a military parade last year when she watched troops’ march from an elevated veranda right next to Kim, put her hand on his shoulder and whispered to him at one point. In another event, she was the first person who exchanged a handshake with Kim before holding his arm and posing for a group photo.
Moon, the analyst, said Ri receives Cabinet member-level treatment at home, appears healthy and is expected to continue to handle key televised announcements at least for the next few years.
Ri's passionate, effusive style has sometimes generated laughter in other countries. In 2011, a Taiwanese TV station apologized after one of its newsreaders mimicked Ri’s tone used when she announced the death of Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il.
Since inheriting power upon his father's death, Kim Jong Un, 38, has ruled North Korea with absolute authority. But he is facing one of the toughest moments of his rule after the coronavirus pandemic shocked an economy already in dire shape from mismanagement and U.S.-led sanctions. Analysts say recent missile tests were meant to advance his weapons and pressure the U.S. and rivals for diplomatic concessions.