SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea has unveiled the little-known daughter of its leader Kim Jong Un at a missile launch site, drawing serious attention to a fourth-generation member of the dynastic family who has ruled North Korea for more than seven decades.
Northern state media said on Saturday that Kim had watched the launch of his new type of intercontinental ballistic missile with his wife Ri Sol Ju, their “beloved daughter” and other officials the day before. Kim said the launch of the Hwasong-17 missile – the North’s longest-range nuclear-capable missile – proved it had a reliable weapon to contain US-led military threats.
Major newspaper Rodong Sinmun also published a series of photos of Kim watching a soaring missile from a distance with her daughter.
Other photos showed her with her hair pulled back, dressed in a white coat and a pair of red shoes as she walked hand-in-hand with her father near a huge missile on top of a truck launch.
This is the first time North Korean state media has mentioned the girl or published her photos. KCNA did not provide further details about her, such as her name and age.
Much of Kim’s private life is still unknown. But South Korean media reported that Kim married Ri, a former singer, in 2009, and the couple had three children born in 2010, 2013 and 2017.
It was unclear which child Kim brought to the launch site. But in 2013, after a trip to Pyongyang, retired NBA star Dennis Rodman told Britain’s The Guardian newspaper that he and Kim had spent a “relaxing time by the sea” with the leader’s family and that he was holding Kim’s baby girl, named Ju Ae.
The identity of Kim’s children is a source of strong outside interest as the 38-year-old leader has not publicly anointed an heir apparent.
When he disappeared from the public eye for an extended period in 2020 amid unconfirmed rumors about the health conditions, a global media frenzy erupted over who was next to lead an impoverished but weaponized country. nuclear.
Many observers said at the time that Kim’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, would step in and lead the country if her brother was incapacitated.
The Kim family has ruled North Korea with a strong personality that has been built around key family members since Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, founded the country in 1948. The so-called bloodline Family Paektu, named after the holiest mountain in the North, only allows family members to rule the country.
“It is far too early to infer anything about the succession within the Kim regime,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “However, publicly including his wife and daughter in what Kim claims was a historically successful missile test links North Korea’s ruling family business to the country’s missile programs.”
“It may be an attempt to make up for Kim’s lack of economic achievement to bolster his national legitimacy,” Easley said.
Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang of the private Sejong Institute in South Korea said if Kim continued to take her daughter to key public events, it could indicate she would become Kim’s successor.
“Under the North Korean system, the children of Kim Jong Un would have the status of prince or princess, like in a dynasty. As Rodong Sinmnum newspaper published the photo of the girl, who took so much after Kim Jong Un and Ri Sol Ju… she has no choice but to live a special life,” Cheong said.
Other observers say Kim taking his family to a missile test site indicates he was confident the weapon would launch successfully, or that he may have been trying to burnish the image of a normal leader including his family in his affairs.
The revelation of the Kim family’s child took many North Korean observers by surprise.
It wasn’t until 2010 that Kim, then 26, was first publicly mentioned in state media as he held a string of high-profile positions before inheriting power at the death of his father Kim Jong Il the following year. Kim Jong Il was also 31 when he won a key post in the ruling Workers’ Party in 1973 – a nomination seen as a key step on the road to succeeding his father Kim Il Sung. Kim Jong Il’s position as successor was made public at the party congress in 1980.
But Cheong said Kim Jong Il privately told associates in 1992 that Kim Jong Un, his third and youngest son, would succeed him. Cheong said Kim’s aunt and her husband, who had defected to the United States, told him that a song praising Kim Jong Un had been played and that Kim Jong Il said that Kim Jong Un was his successor on the occasion of his son’s 8th birthday.
“Kim Jong Un may have his daughter, who is most like him in his mind, as his successor,” Cheong said.