North Korea: Is Kim Jong-un grooming his daughter to be his successor?

Kim Jong-un and his daughter participated in a photo session with scientists, engineers and officials at the test of the new intercontinental ballistic missile.

Twice in the space of a week recently, the daughter of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appeared in public, giving rise to much speculation that the girl may be being groomed to succeed her father.

The country’s state media did not reveal the name or age of the girl, whom they only described as the “most beloved” daughter of the leader.

North Korea’s state news agency KCNA reported in late November that Kim and his daughter had met with soldiers, scientists and others involved in the Hwasong-17 missile launch earlier that month.

The latest KCNA photos were undated, but said Kim and his daughter stood in front of a crowd “filled with boundless passion and happiness” expressing the “highest glory and ardent reverence for him.”

Information about the young woman is scarce. For example, her name was never officially released, but it is believed that her name is Kim Ju-ae.

So what do we know about Kim Jong-un’s daughter?

First mentioned in 2013

Kim Jong-un leads one of the countries that tries hardest to keep everything that happens within its borders a secret, and very little is known about his personal life.

In July 2012, North Korea confirmed that Ri Sol-ju was Kim’s wife, a month after she was first seen in public with him.

Since then, South Korean media have speculated that the couple have three children (two girls and one boy) with Ju-ae being the eldest.

In September 2013, retired American basketball player Dennis Rodman, who was in North Korea on a “diplomatic basketball tour”, told Britain’s The Guardian newspaper that “Kim had a daughter”.

“I held his baby Ju-ae and also talked to [Kim’s wife]. He is a good father and has a beautiful family,” Rodman told the newspaper.

At the time, there was no official response or confirmation from North Korea to Rodman’s comments.

2022, first appearance

For the first time, on November 19, 2022, KCNA released several photos of the father and daughter, confirming long-standing rumors about their existence.

State media reported that they had been speaking with officials, inspecting missiles and watching the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile from an observation platform the previous day.

However, the reports did not mention any further details.

Michael Madden, an expert on North Korea at the Stimson Center in Washington, United States, estimates that the girl is between 12 and 13 years old.

For Madden, the young woman’s public appearance may be a message from Kim Jong-un that “the fourth generation of succession in power will come through my (blood) line.”

“The revelation of Kim Jong-un’s daughter has interested North Korean analysts far more than the news that the country has successfully launched its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile,” the BBC’s Seoul correspondent said. Jean MacKenzie.

“Does this mean that she has been chosen as the successor to Kim Jong-un and will one day rule North Korea?” the journalist wonders.

2022, second appearance

Just a week after the first photos of the father and daughter were released, KCNA posted another set of photos of the two.

Again, neither his age nor his name was mentioned. But, this time she was described as Kim Jong-un’s “most beloved” or “precious” daughter.

“This is certainly impressive. The photograph of Kim Ju-ae standing with her father as technicians and scientists involved in the latest ICBM launch celebrate it would support the idea that this is the beginning of her positioning as possible successor,” Ankit Panda, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told NBC broadcaster.

However, some analysts warn that it is too soon to say if she will succeed him in power.

Chun Su-jin, a South Korean author of a book on North Korean women leaders, said in an interview with the Reuters news agency that North Korean elites are unlikely to accept Kim’s daughter as ruler.

“The country is not prepared for a leader of the other gender [a woman],” he said. “[Kim] is just trying to show that he’s a loving father, not just a brutal missile-firing dictator.”

“In North Korea, gender is still important to being a leader,” explains Hyun In-ae, a North Korean defector who now works at the Ewha Institute for Unification Studies in Seoul, South Korea.

Today there is already a woman in the North Korean regime who has been drawing the world’s attention for some years: Kim Yo-jong, Kim’s sister.

Kim Yo-jong: the powerful sister

When rumors and speculation surfaced in 2020 about Kim Jong-un’s health, his sister, Kim Yo-jong, was seen as a possible replacement to take over the family dynasty until one of Kim’s children was old enough.

Kim Yo-jong has held a high position in the regime for some time. Recently, he threatened South Korea over the sanctions applied against North Korea.

But it’s obvious that the appearance of Kim Jong-un’s daughter has raised more questions, says the BBC’s Jean Mackenzie.

“Why show her now? She’s still very young. If he’s grooming her to take office, could that mean the 38-year-old leader has health problems?”

“His health is the subject of a lot of speculation because he seems to be the biggest risk to the stability of the regime,” says Mackenzie.