Kim Jong-un may have chosen his daughter as heir, experts have said, after her second public appearance with the North Korean dictator.
Ju-ae, believed to be 10, was pictured smiling with her father as he rewarded the scientists and military officials responsible for building the country’s latest nuclear bomb, the second time in a week that she was photographed in front of the missiles.
Ankit Panda, a North Korea expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the “striking” images suggest Ju-ae is “positioning himself as a potential successor”.
Little is known about the girl, who is believed to be the middle of Kim’s three children.
Kim Ju-ae, daughter of Kim Jong-un (pictured together), is likely to be the heir to North Korea’s dictatorship, experts have said
Kim Ju-ae has been photographed alongside her father and North Korea’s nukes twice a week, seemingly calculated to project an image of power both at home and abroad
The first news of his existence came from retired American basketball player Dennis Rodman, who struck up an unlikely friendship with Kim early in his reign.
Rodman, who visited North Korea several times before his friendship with Kim fell apart, recalls meeting one of the dictator’s children in 2013.
The sportsman said he spent time “relaxing by the sea” with Kim and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, and was allowed to hold their baby girl – who he says is was called Ju-ae.
South Korean spies have previously said Kim’s eldest child, now believed to be 12, is a boy – although nothing else is known about him and he has never been seen in audience.
The youngest child is believed to be a girl, born around March 2017.
Ju-ae’s sudden appearance alongside her father and North Korea’s nuclear weapons seems calculated to project an image of power – both to the North Korean people and to the world.
State media’s description of her as Kim’s “most beloved” and “precious” child also gives strong indications that she is the favorite to succeed him.
Mr Panda said: “It is certainly striking. The photograph of Kim Ju Ae standing alongside her father while being celebrated by technicians and scientists involved in the latest ICBM launch would support the idea that this is the start of her position as a potential successor.
“State media highlighting her dad’s love for her further underscores that, I think.
Little is known about Kim Ju-ae, who is believed to be around 10 years old and the middle of three children Kim has with his wife, Ri Sol-ju.
Kim Ju-ae (pictured with her father) almost certainly met American basketball player Dennis Rodman when he visited North Korea in 2013 and held her like a baby
Ju-ae stood next to her father Kim in front of North Korea’s latest nuclear bomb as he rewarded the officials who built it, which experts say is probably no coincidence
“Finally, his first two public appearances were in the context of strategic nuclear weapons – the crown jewels of North Korea’s national defense capabilities. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me.
However, questions remain about Ju-ae’s position in the line of succession, known in North Korea as the Mount Paektu Bloodline.
Kim Jong-il did not reveal the existence of his own successor – Kim Jong-un – until very late in his reign, when his health was clearly ailing.
Kim Jong-un has struggled with health issues in recent years, including rumors that he died in 2020, but these have largely faded in recent months as he returns to making regular media appearances of state.
Questions about his heir – who at one point was believed to be Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong – also receded as the dictator reasserted himself as the undisputed ruler.
All of this begs the question, why has Kim decided to reveal his daughter to the world now?
This carries considerable risks for Ju-ae, who is now likely to be targeted by North Korea’s many enemies, and little benefit for Kim – unless concerns about his own fitness to govern remain. .
Ju-ae would also be North Korea’s first female heiress, raising questions about whether she could successfully control the male-dominated military and Workers’ Party brokers needed to run the country.
Ju-ae’s first outing with her father also featured images of nukes (above) with state media calling her Kim’s ‘most beloved’ child
Cheong Seong-Chang, from the private Sejong Institute in South Korea, suggested the girl’s gender could explain why Kim decided to reveal her so early – to get his people used to the idea of a female leader.
Cheong added that it is not unusual for North Korean leaders to choose their heirs at a young age, which they say shows the greatest leadership qualities.
Kim Jong-un is believed to have been chosen by his own father at the age of eight – although he was not named heir until years later – and is also the middle of three children.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, agreed – saying: “Kim could signal to other North Korean elites that he is framing his daughter for a leadership role.”
However, the alleged existence of an older brother has led to suggestions that Kim is keeping her true heir hidden from the public, at least for now.
Soo Kim, a security analyst with the RAND Corporation in California, told PBS: “We were told that Kim has three children, including possibly a son.”
“If this is true, and if we assume that the male child – who has not yet been revealed – will be the heir, is Ju Ae really Kim’s most ‘precious’ from an inheritance point of view? ?”
“I think it’s too early to draw conclusions.”
Soo speculated that Ju-ae’s unveiling might have been intended as a distraction, either to get the West used to the idea of living with the North Korean nuclear threat, or to impress on domestic viewers that the nuclear weapons are the future of the country.
Until Ju-ae’s sudden appearance, it was rumored that Kim’s older sister – Kim Yo-jong – was lined up to replace him.