North Korea first lady Ri Sol Ju’s (R) title changed in July, according to a Yonhap study. Photo by KCNA/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 30 (UPI) -- North Korea's first lady Ri Sol Ju is becoming more visible in public following Pyongyang's turn to diplomatic engagement in 2018.
A Yonhap analysis of North Korea media content from Jan. 1 through Thursday indicates Pyongyang's state-controlled news agency KCNA reported 20 appearances by Ri, a significant increase from the previous year.
Ri is not typically making appearances independent of her powerful husband, however.
Of the 20 appearances, only once did Ri appear without Kim Jong Un, according to the report.
Ri has become more visible during Kim's factory visits, where the leader provides "field guidance" to North Korean workers.
In 2018, Ri appeared eight times with Kim during his field inspections, and about 40 percent of all Ri appearances were at manufacturing sites.
From 2012 to 2017, Ri appeared at factories only seven times. Ri was most often publicly visible at concerts, ceremonies to remember deceased North Korean leaders and at sports tournaments.
Ri's title has also changed, according to Yonhap, from "madame," to "comrade," beginning in July.
Hong Min, a South Korean researcher with the Korea Institute for National Unification, said the new title indicates Ri's role is changing.
"Although the first lady is not directly involved in policy, she could have both direct and indirect influences," Hong said. "It is highly likely her role could undergo a transformation, even if she does not directly intervene" in national affairs.
The South Korean analyst said the change in title indicates she could increasingly carry out state policies.
One major event Kim attended while Ri was absent was the summit in Singapore with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Since the summit, North Korea has repeatedly called for the signing of a declaration to end the Korean War.
According to Vox on Wednesday, the North is making the demand because Trump told Kim at the June summit he would sign the declaration.
Since the summit, the United States has not said it would sign an end-of-war declaration, and has stated instead North Korea must denuclearize first before other actions are taken.