People are furious about comparisons between Ivanka Trump and the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un -- here's how they actually match up

Matthias Hangst/Getty ImagesKim Yo Jong shakes hands with President of South Korea, Moon Jae In, during the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
  • The cheerful and poised appearance of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, at the Winter Olympis sparked comparisons to President Trump’s daughter and advisor, Ivanka Trump.
  • The two women have superficial similarities, acting publicly as foils to family members.
  • However, Kim is the head of propaganda for a brutal authoritarian regime that has executed and imprisoned hundreds of thousands of North Koreans.

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, quickly became a media obsession during her three-day stint at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Kim made headlines with her cheerful and reserved attitude, a calculated foil to her brother’s militaristic presence. Commentators drew comparisons between Kim and Ivanka Trump – another influential woman deployed to soften public perception of a nation’s leader.

Kim’s appearance at the Olympics “is a signal that North Korea is not this crazy, weird former Cold War state – but it too has young women that are capable and are the future leadership,”North Korean expert Balbina Hwang told CNN.

Backlash quickly emerged to what many saw as overly positive media coverage of Kim. Critics felt that comparisons to Ivanka Trump ignored Kim’s role in running what Human Rights Watch calls “one of the most repressive authoritarian states in the world,” where dissenters often face death or multi-generational prison sentences.

Here’s how Ivanka Trump and Kim Yo Jong actually match up.


The root of the comparisons between Ivanka Trump and Kim Yo Jong is a simple case of the two being in the same place at (nearly) the same time. Trump is visiting South Korea for the Olympic closing ceremony, while Kim attended the opening ceremony.

GettyMike Pence (bottom right) at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics near Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong.

Both women are expected to push their countries’ agendas at the Olympics. Trump is a senior presidential advisor, while Kim runs the “Propaganda and Agitation Department” for North Korea’s ruling party.

White House/Joyce N. Boghosian

Both women are also related to the leaders of their countries, as Trump is the daughter of President Donald Trump and Kim is the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.


Trump’s being appointed a White House advisor — which began as an unofficial role following her father’s election — was criticised by many on the left as unethical.

Getty/ Jeff J Mitchell

Meanwhile, Kim Yo Jong and Kim Jong Un’s familial ties are crucial to their ability to run a repressive, authoritarian state. In 2013, North Korea’s founding principles were revised to ensure that only those in the “Baekdu bloodline” could lead the country, allowing Kim and her brother to consolidate power.

Source: BBC


Beyond familial ties, the argument that Kim and Trump are playing similar roles in shaping public perception of their nations carries some weight at first glance.


Since the early days of President Donald Trump’s campaign, Ivanka Trump has served as a foil to her father, attempting to portray him in an appealing light for more progressive Americans.

Pool/Getty Images

President Trump’s political rise was built in part on aggressive anti-immigration policies and bombastic statements — often on Twitter. In comparison, his daughter has been more moderate and reserved in public.

Alex Wong/Getty ImagesIvanka Trump at the Republican National Convention in July 2016.

While President Trump has faced allegations of sexual harassment and assault, Ivanka Trump has maintained that the White House is dedicated to empowering women.


Even Trump’s public presentation is designed to showcase a more accessible version of the Trump administration.


In contrast to President Trump’s flashy aesthetic, the first daughter’s clothing is typically from her own reasonably-priced clothing brand or fast-fashion retailers such as Zara.


Similarly, Kim’s no-frills style at the Winter Olympics sparked conversation, with South Korean media outlets obsessing over her lack of makeup, straightforward hairstyle, and minimalist outfits.

Source: The Washington Post


Like Ivanka Trump, Kim maintained a poised and quietly cheerful image — a far cry from the aggression expected of her family.


Commentators theorised that Kim, who was called “Princess Yo Jong” by her father Kim Jong Il, is launching a “charm offensive” to change other countries’ perception of North Korea as a dangerous and militaristic state.


“Kim Yo Jong kept smiling, and she seemed nice,” Lee Ryoon-ryong, a 25-year-old who attended the Korean women’s ice hockey match at the Olympics, told The Washington Post. “I was surprised because she looked different from the image I had about North Koreans.”

Source: The Washington Post


Because Kim and Trump are both powerful female relatives of male leaders that many perceive to be aggressive, it’s easy to mentally group them together.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

However, the similarities are ultimately shallow in light of the two women’s actual goals — not just their calculated public presentation.


Trump’s policies cannot be considered alongside the atrocities that human rights organisations say have been committed by the North Korean state.


Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have been placed in prison camps and other detention facilities for perceived opposition to the government or its propaganda, which is run by Kim Yo Jong.

Source: Humans Rights Watch


North Koreans can face torture, sexual abuse, and public execution for actions such as watching South Korean films or using Chinese cell phones.


Kim plays an active role in promoting her brother’s image as a a powerful leader, ensuring that the authoritarian and repressive rule is allowed to continue.


Kim presented a more cheerful, alternate version of North Korean leadership, but that new image must be put in context. The last time South Korea hosted the games, in 1987, a North Korean agent blew up a civilian airliner, killing all 115 crew and passengers.

Source: Business Insider


While it is unusual and triggers ethical concerns for a US first daughter to serve as an official presidential advisor, Trump isn’t part of a brutal political dynasty known for using public executions to retain power.


Drawing comparisons between Trump and Kim can be helpful in understanding how governments peddle propaganda and push certain political narratives.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesIvanka Trump hosts a listening session with military spouses in the Roosevelt Room at the White House August 2, 2017 in Washington, DC.

But to consider the two women’s roles at all comparable is devastatingly wrong — and proves Kim’s power in wielding propaganda to the advantage of herself and North Korea.

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