As the Olympics kicked off with their every-two-years message of world peace through athletic competition Thursday night, photographers noticed something curious. United States Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen, in Pyeongchang to represent the U.S., were seated directly in front of the North Korean delegation.
That meant Pence was mere feet away from Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean head of state Kim Jong-un. The two sides did not appear to interact in any meaningful way, but it was a rare public encounter between very powerful people from two countries with more than 60 years of unresolved tension.
Kim Yo-jong is the 30-year-old sister of Kim Jong-un and the first member of her family to go to South Korea since the 1953 ceasefire paused the Korean War, according to The Guardian. The family, starting with her grandfather Kim Il-sung, has led North Korea since it became an independent nation.
She is believed to be a major player in the North Korean government, effectively controlling the country’s public relations, for lack of a better term. It is said that she has oversight over public statements released by the government, according to NBC News. That means, as far as westerners know, she may have had final say over any recent North Korean statements about Donald Trump’s mental health, for example.
Buried under the attention that Kim’s proximity to Pence generated was that she was seated next to 90-year-old Kim Yong-nam, who is an even higher ranking government official than Yo-jong. As the head of North Korea’s parliament, he became the most powerful North Korean to visit their southern neighbors in 65 years, per Telegraph.
Both of the high-ranking North Korean officials met and shook hands with South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who was seated directly in front of the North’s delegation. For the people of the Korean Peninsula, that was likely more significant than Pence’s non-interaction with Kim Yo-jong.