Appearing with his young daughter at two lavish military events recently, Kim Jong-un told the world two things – the Kim family will rule North Korea for another generation and have the nuclear weapons to ensure that no one wants to challenge this control. .
The girl – Ju Ae, believed to be Kim’s second daughter, aged around 9 – joined the North Korean leader and his wife at a large celebration at a Pyongyang military barracks on a February night.
A day later, he also watched the parade of at least 11 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in the North Korean capital’s Kim Il Sung Square.
“By flaunting his wife and daughter, Kim wants both domestic and foreign observers to irrevocably associate his family dynasty with the country’s military might,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. .
Meet the Kims
The Kim family’s rule of North Korea dates back to 1948, when Kim Il Sung took power after World War II.
When Kim Il Sung died in 1994, his son Kim Jong Il assumed leadership of the country – and when Kim Jong Il died in December 2011, his son Kim Jong Un came to power.
Western observers believe that Kim Jong Un has three children and that Ju Ae is the middle child, although this is impossible to verify outside of North Korea.
In reporting last week’s military events, North Korean media portrayed Ju Ae as the child Kim “respected” and “loved.”
When Dennis Rodman, the basketball star, visited Pyongyang in 2013, he revealed that Kim had given birth to a baby girl named Ju Ae and even told the Guardian: “I held their baby, Ju Ae, in my arms and I also spoke with her. [a mulher de Kim]”.
The age of the baby Rodman met matches the age the girl appears to be in the military event photos.
Isn’t it too early to think about a successor?
Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea, explains that there is historical precedent for introducing a successor early enough: Kim Jong Il, the father of Kim Jong Un, did so.
“It is known that Kim Jong Il told his advisers that Kim Jong Un would be his successor on Kim Jong Un’s 8th birthday when he sang the song ‘Footsteps’ to his son,” Cheong said. But at that time, he added, this information did not reach the outside world.
“That’s why there were so many rumors and speculations about who would succeed him, whether it would be Kim Jong Il’s first son, Kim Jong Nam, or his second son, Kim Jong Chol,” Cheong said.
When was Kim’s daughter in the spotlight?
Speculation that Ju Ae would be Kim’s successor began last November when state media published photos of Kim and her daughter inspecting a North Korean ballistic missile before a test launch.
South Korean lawmaker and member of the parliamentary intelligence committee Yoo Sang-bum identified the child as possibly Ju Ae. At the end of that month, Cheong recalled, North Korean media published more photos of Kim with her daughter and described Ju Ae as the “most beloved” child. And, towards the end of 2022, photos surface of the girl visiting a rocket factory with her father.
It’s a matter of succession…
Cheong is convinced that the fact that the girl has recently appeared at public events and the way she is being described in the state media show means she is being groomed to succeed her father. In the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper, articles talking about Kim’s family mention Ju Ae first and only then Kim’s wife, and choose adjectives to talk about the child, such as “beloved” or “respected,” that convey the idea of . has a special property.
“It appears to be the beginning of Kim Ju Ae’s cult of personality and suggests that while she has not yet been officially announced as the successor… in fact, she has been chosen,” Cheong said.
But for Ju Ae to succeed his father, Cheong added, he will need the support of the military.
Being introduced to military events from an early age will allow her to gain credibility with the military in the long run.
…Or is this just a PR stunt?
Not all observers are convinced that Kim Jong Un has decided who will succeed him. It is possible that bringing the daughter to military events is simply a strategy to draw attention to Pyongyang’s armed forces, given that, after a year of record-breaking missile tests, the international public seems to have lost interest, said Chun In-bum. , a retired South Korean general.
“I think the North Koreans – whether by accident or on purpose – have discovered that this is a way to get the attention of the international community. And I think they’re having fun with all the interest that the appearance of Kim Jong Un’s daughter has raised,” he said.
“Throughout a seven-decade history, North Korea’s successors have always been a mystery. Why would they change their ways now? If I had to bet $5, I’d say it won’t be the successor.”
And what about the missiles?
While there is much doubt about Ju Ae’s role, there is little doubt about Kim’s ambition to increase military power and ensure his family continues to control the country.
The 11 Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) unveiled last week are a response to Kim’s call in late 2022 to “exponentially increase” his country’s nuclear arsenal in response to what he says are threats from South Korea and United States.
A nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Ankit Panda, commented on social media that if each of these missiles were equipped with multiple nuclear warheads, US ballistic missile defenses might not hold up.
Solid fuels vs. liquid fuel
At last week’s event, North Korea’s military also paraded hardware that analysts believe could be a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile. This type of missile is a step ahead of the Hwasong-17’s liquid fuel technology. While liquid-fueled rockets take longer to prepare for launch, solid-fueled rockets can be ready to launch almost immediately.
“If this is really the case, North Korea will have a more mobile, more flexible, more lethal arsenal…” said Chun, the former South Korean general. That kind of technology would give the Kim regime “the ability to attack an adversary with very, very little warning,” Chun said. “It’s a really scary scenario.”