Meet Kim Jong-un's "Hidden" Daughter. "A Potential Successor."
“This is certainly striking."
Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, attracted two sets of nuclear headlines this week: missile and family. His previously unseen daughter has made two high-profile appearances with him, fueling succession rumors. Kim's daughter, believed to be ten years old and named Ju-ae, first appeared with the North Korean leader on Nov. 18. It was a remarkable event because North Korean media had never acknowledged the existence of Kim's children.
She appeared with him again this week at a ceremony celebrating the launch of the Hwasong-17 missile, which is believed to be capable of hitting the American mainland. Read on to find out more about Kim's daughter, where she fits into Kim's mysterious family, and the role she might play in the future of the North Korean regime.
On Sunday, Kim Jong-un appeared with his daughter at the missile ceremony, where he promoted more than 100 officials and scientists who worked on the project. He called it "the world's strongest strategic weapon" and said his nation's scientists had achieved a "wonderful leap forward in the development of the technology of mounting nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles," according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
Ju-ae also accompanied her father to a test launch of the missile on Nov. 18. Walking hand in hand with her father, the girl—unnamed but identified as his "beloved daughter"—wore a white parka and red shoes. On her second appearance, she wore a black coat and affected a more mature appearance. The Korean Central News Agency described her as his "most beloved" or "precious" child, an upgrade from "beloved daughter."
Experts say the photo ops could be an attempt to generate some sentimental PR. "The implication is that Kim is not a warmonger but a normal dad who cares about his kids like everyone else," John Delury, a professor at South Korea's Yonsei University, told Voice of America.
Another explanation is that Kim is telegraphing that his regime will continue. According to CBS News, South Korea's spy service, the National Intelligence Agency, the unveiling of Ju-ae "appeared to reflect Kim's resolve to protect the security of North Korea's future generations in the face of a standoff with the United States."
"This is certainly striking," Ankit Panda, an expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the Associated Press. 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."
"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 defense capabilities. That doesn't strike me as coincidental," said Panda.
The mother of Kim's daughter is believed to be Ri Sol-ju, his wife. Jue-ae is believed to be the middle child of Kim's three children. 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.
Before this month's appearances, the only clue to Jue-ae's existence came from retired NBA star Dennis Rodman. After his 2013 trip to Pyongyang, Rodman told 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.
Other experts say any talk of succession is premature. Kim's children are too young to succeed him now, and Kim's sister, Kim Yo-jong, has taken on an increasingly public role in recent years, leading some to speculate that she may be next in line.
"It's much too soon to infer anything about 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 as a historically successful missile test associates the family business of ruling North Korea with the nation's missile programs."