Seoul She walks hand in hand with her father in front of a missile that is ready for launch, accompanies him to an artillery target practice or claps her hands with a smile when they visit a military parade together. North Korea’s ruler Kim Jong Un has appeared in public with his daughter several times in recent months – mostly in a military environment.
According to the South Korean secret service, the girl with the long black hair is probably only ten or eleven years old. It is said to be named Ju Ae and one of three children Kim and his wife Ri Sol Ju may have had.
The girl’s unexpected appearance, documented by the state media, astonished observers abroad. In largely closed-off North Korea, those in power usually don’t show themselves publicly with their children. “Kim Jong Un performing with his daughter is something new,” says Bernhard Seliger, long-time project manager at the Hanns Seidel Foundation in the South Korean capital of Seoul.
North Korea: Will the ‘Beloved Daughter’ of the ‘Supreme Leader’ Be His Successor?
Their appearances fueled new speculation about Kim’s plans abroad. Does he want his daughter to be his successor in the country that is also described as a hereditary communist dictatorship, as some experts in South Korea suspect? Or is it ultimately just part of a propaganda offensive?
North Korea itself has not revealed any information about the child other than that she is Kim Jong Un’s “beloved” daughter. Not even on Friday, when the official newspaper “Rodong Sinmun” showed pictures of her accompanying her father again to test an ICBM.
The state media published photos of the daughter for the first time in November. Observers also saw the fact that Kim used the test of an ICBM for a family outing as a propaganda ploy. Kim wanted to convey the message that building up a nuclear force is the right way to protect future generations, despite the sometimes great need in their own country. East Asia expert John Delury wrote on Twitter that the message behind the pictures was: “He is a good father who protects his family as he protects the nation.”
For the leadership of the country, nuclear weapons and ICBMs as carriers, as a guarantee of survival and an effective deterrent against the USA. Pyongyang is also accepting severe international sanctions for its nuclear weapons development, which the United States and its allies perceive as a serious threat. Just last Thursday and Sunday morning, North Korea again fired an ICBM as a test.
South Korea’s secret service recently reported to MPs in Seoul that Ju Ae does not attend a public school, is taught privately and that her hobbies are horseback riding, skiing and swimming. The only thing that can be confirmed is that Kim Jong Un has a daughter, named Ju Ae, who has a younger sister, a Seoul government official said.
Even whether there is still a “first-born child” and whether this is a boy or a girl cannot be said unequivocally.
North Korea’s patriarchal orientation speaks against a successor
For most observers, however, there is no doubt that Kim Jong Un also wants to continue the dynastic succession. However, it is too early to see the daughter as a potential successor, South Korea’s Unification Minister Kwon Youn Se said recently in a local radio interview. “First of all, Kim Jong Un is only about 40 years old.” North Korea is also extremely patriarchal, which rather speaks against a successor. But it is also clear “that they (North Korea) are planning a fourth-generation transfer of power,” Kwon said, referring to the transfer of power to Kim Jong Un – a grandson of “eternal President” Kim Il Sung – 12 years ago.
North Korea expert Bernhard Seliger suspects that there are several reasons for the daughter’s appearances. So it is possible that Kim simply wants to be more human in her company. However, it is most likely that Kim is preparing the daughter for a specific role without necessarily providing her as a successor. In this way, she could slip into the role of a “possible support for the future heir,” says Seliger.
He points out that Ju Ae has also been immortalized on postage stamps showing her with her father. “Stamps are a very important means of propaganda for North Korea.” The image of a specific person could already be confirmation of an official role. But Seliger does not want to dismiss the successor thesis either. It is important for Pyongyang that the “bloodline of the ruling family” is continued. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a man.
Observers suspect that the discussion about the daughter has also reached ordinary North Koreans. “But how it is received is the question,” says Seliger. In the end, much remains in the dark. “We have to realize that we ultimately know too little about the background.”
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