Kim’s daughter appears again, heating up succession debate
SEOUL, South Korea (AP):
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s daughter made a public appearance again, this time with missile scientists and more honorific titles as her father’s “most beloved” or “precious” child. She’s only about 10, but her new, bold photos are deepening the debate over whether she’s being primed as a successor.
The daughter, believed to be Kim’s second child, named Ju Ae, and about nine or 10 years old, was first unveiled to the outside world last weekend in state media photos showing her observing the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile launch the previous day with her parents and other older officials. The daughter, wearing a white puffy coat and red shoes, was shown walking hand-in-hand with Kim past a huge missile loaded on a launch truck and watching a soaring weapon.
On Sunday, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency mentioned her for the second time, saying she and Kim took group photos with scientists, officials and others involved in what it called the test-launch of its Hwasong-17 ICBM.
KCNA described her as Kim’s “most beloved” or “precious” child, a more honorific title than her previous description of “(Kim’s) beloved” child on its November-19 dispatch. State media-released photos showed the daughter in a long, black coat holding her father’s arm as the two posed for a photo. Taking after her mother Ri Sol Ju, who wasn’t visible in any of the photos Sunday, she had a more mature appearance than in her unveiling a week ago.
Some photos showed the pair standing in the middle of a line of uniformed soldiers before a massive missile atop a launch truck. Others showed Kim’s daughter clapping her hands, exchanging handshakes with a soldier or talking to her father as people cheered in the background.
“This 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 being positioned as a potential successor,” said Ankit Panda, an expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“State media underscoring her father’s love for her further underscores this, I think. Finally, 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,” Panda said.
After her first public appearance, South Korea’s spy service told lawmakers that it assessed the girl pictured is Kim’s second child, who is about 10 and whose name is Ju Ae. The National Intelligence Service said her looks matched information that she is taller and bigger than other girls of the same age. It also said that her unveiling appeared to reflect Kim’s resolve to protect the security of North Korea’s future generations in the face of a stand-off with the United States.
South Korean media previously speculated Kim has three children – born in 2010, 2013 and 2017 –and that the first child is a son while the third is a daughter. The unveiled daughter is highly likely the child who retired NBA star Dennis Rodman saw during his 2013 trip to Pyongyang. After that visit, Rodman told the British newspaper The Guardian that he and Kim had a “relaxing time by the sea” with the leader’s family and that he held Kim’s baby daughter, named Ju Ae.
North Korea has made no mention of Kim’s reported two other children. But speculation that his eldest child is a son has led some experts to question how a daughter can be Kim’s successor given the deeply male-dominated, patriarchal nature of North Korean society. Kim is a third-generation member of the family that has run North Korea for more than seven decades, and his father and grandfather successively governed the country before he inherited power in late 2011.
“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?” said Soo Kim, a security analyst at the California-based RAND Corporation. “I think it is too early to draw any conclusions.”