North Korean despot Kim Jong un has appeared in public with his daughter for the second time, posing for photos with soldiers, scientists and others involved in this month’s Hwasong-17 missile launch. State media outlet KCNA reported that Kim and his daughter had found the crowd “filled with boundless passion and happiness” as they expressed “the highest glory and ardent reverence for him”.
The Hwasong-17 is North Korea‘s most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile that was tested earlier this month, with some experts saying it has the potential to strike anywhere on the US mainland.
Kim Jong un had boasted that the ICBM was a “reliable and maximum-capacity” weapon to contain US military threats. He said on the occasion, as KCNA reported: “History teaches this truth that only when we become the strongest — not the weak — in the present world where the strength in a showdown just decides victory, can we defend the present and future of the country and nation”.
KCNA said that the workers had “hardened their resolve” to carry out the task, “burning their hearts with a single mind to repay the privileges and trust that he shows at any cost”.
The photos that the North Korean government released late last evening were not dated. The authority denied access to the event to independent media reporters. KCNA described it as a “photo session”.
The maverick leader’s daughter had watched the missile test with him in her first appearance in public. Her second appearance has raised speculation that she could be a successor in the making, but analysts say it would be an unprecedented uphill struggle in North Korea’s male-dominated dynasty.
KCNA has not identified her, calling her a “beloved daughter”, but experts believe she is Ju Ae, estimated to be aged between 12 and 13, although some think she could be as young as nine.
Kim Jong un is believed to have three children, two daughters and a son, but by exhibiting Ju Ae to the world twice in a matter of days, he has indicated that she could be a successor in the making or be trained for a leadership position.
Successor of Kim Jong un?
This was the second public appearance of this daughter of Kim Jong un in a week. In the latest appearance, Kim Ju Ae and her father posed for photos with soldiers and missile scientists, as state media described her as his “most beloved” or “precious” child.
The comments appear to be even more glowing than last week’s description of her being his “beloved” child. This was designed as a more mature appearance than her first public appearance last weekend, holding her father’s hand and pictured with her mother Ri Sol ju.
So, who is the youngster who some believe Kim Jong un is grooming to become her dad’s successor as leader of the regime one day?
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said today that Ju Ae and her father had met experts involved in what it called a test launch of its Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile.
Author Ankit Panda, from the Carnegie Endowment for the International Peace think tank, said the image of Ju Ae standing alongside her father and experts involved in the launch “would support the idea that this is the start of her being positioned as a potential successor”.
He added: “Both of her initial public appearances have been in the context of strategic nuclear weapons – the crown jewels of North Korea’s national defence capabilities. That doesn’t strike me as coincidental.”
Based on the history of previous heads of North Korea, it may be said that any child will need education and “on-the-job” experience before he or she can be considered for supreme leadership. In about 10 years, Ju Ae is expected to have started an official career, according to Michael Madden, director of North Korea Leadership Watch.
Speculation that Kim Jong un’s eldest child is a son has led some experts to question how a daughter can take over, given the deeply male-dominated, patriarchal nature of North Korean society.
Kim Jong un, 38, is a third-generation member of the family which has ruled North Korea for more than seven decades. His father and grandfather governed the country before he inherited power in late 2011.
Security analyst Soo Kim said: “We’ve been told that Kim has three children, including possibly a son. If this is true, and if we assume that the male child, who has yet to be revealed, will be the heir, is Ju Ae truly Kim’s most ‘precious,’ from a succession standpoint? I think it is too early to draw any conclusions.”
Middle child of Kim Jong un
Ju Ae is thought to be aged about nine and is the second of Kim Jong un’s rumoured three children.
South Korean media previously reported that the autocrat had three children — born in 2010, 2013 and 2017 — and that the first child was a son while the third was a daughter.
North Korea has made no mention of Kim Jong un’s reported two other children.
Ju Ae is highly likely to be the child who retired US basketball star Dennis Rodman saw during his trip to the capital Pyongyang in 2013.
After that visit, Rodman said that Kim Jong un and he had a “relaxing time by the sea” with the dictator’s family and that he held Kim’s baby daughter, named Ju Ae.
‘Kim is just staging a show’
Chun Su-jin, a South Korean author, cautioned that the chance of North Korean elites welcoming Kim Jong un’s daughter as their ruler is almost zero. “It is not ready to welcome a leader of the other gender,” she opined.
“(Kim Jong un) is just staging a show that he is a loving father, not just a brutal dictator who shoots missiles.”
Others, however, argue that despite the secretive state’s strongly patriarchal society, gender may not disqualify a daughter or other woman from taking the reins.
Kim Jong un is not even 40 so, barring serious health problems, there is probably a fair amount of time before he needs to consider a successor, according to Madden.
“That gives ample time for North Korea’s political culture to change and create the conditions for a female successor,” the expert said. But what if the reports saying the dictator’s health is not good are true? The uncertainty of his life might have prompted him to make a succession plan, say some North Korean observers who do not want to be named.
In 2020 when there was speculation about Kim Jong un’s health, his sister was viewed as a possible placeholder to take over the family dynasty until one of Kim’s children was old enough.
Women have previously held senior roles in the regime over the years.
But Kim Jong Il passed over several older daughters and sons before he anointed Kim Jong un, despite speculation at the time that his second daughter could be his successor, Madden said.
What about the other daughter?
Kim Yo Jong is the tyrant’s only close relative with a public role in politics. Her official title is vice department director of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, but South Korea’s spy agency has said that she handles relations with both South Korea and the US. She is said to be the second-most powerful person in North Korea after her brother.