LONDON — North Korean state media recently released new undated images of Kim Jong Un showcasing the Hermit Kingdom’s extensive arsenal. But in those carefully curated photos, there was something else the communist leader was broadcasting to the world: his daughter. Pictures were released of the pair walking hand in hand alongside armored military vehicles and rocket launchers.
This is the third time that the North Korean dictator has included his daughter, whose name is believed to be Kim Ju Ae, in his rare public appearances. She was first paraded to the world in November, when she accompanied her father on an inspection of a ballistic missile ahead of its launch. Less than two weeks later, pictures of her were publicized again, during the testing of the Hwasong-17 intercontinental missile. In every image, she is front and center alongside her father.
Little is known about the girl except that she is believed to be around 9 or 10 years old. Perhaps more important is the way she has been described by North Korean state media: Kim’s "most beloved" or "precious" child. Her public appearances have ramped up the rumors surrounding her father's successor.
The country styles itself as a "democratic republic," but North Korea has been run by the same family since it was created at the end of World War II. Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung and his father, Kim Jong Il, both ruled the country until their deaths.
According to Edward Howell, a lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford in England, the announcement of Kim Jong Un's daughter would have less to do with proclaiming a successor than with declaring North Korea’s future nuclear position in the world.
“It’s too early to talk about succession — look how long Kim Jong Il left it,” Howell told Yahoo News. Unlike his father, who announced his heir 14 years before his death, Kim Jong Il reportedly chose his youngest son only about a year before he died, in December 2011.
“One of the things that North Korea has always wanted is international status,” Howell said. “North Korea wants the international community to accept that this is a nuclear state, just like India and Pakistan.”
So why would the leader include his daughter in his latest propaganda? “I think the messaging is showing very clearly that a nuclear North Korea is not just Kim Jong Un’s,” Howell said. “The nuclear North Korea that he has tried to build up and accelerate is not just for him and his generation, but for his daughter’s generation.”
The release of the photos stands in stark contrast with Kim’s reported comments in 2019 to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he did not want to burden his children with nuclear weapons. According to a former CIA officer involved in diplomacy between the U.S. and North Korea, Kim told Pompeo: “I’m a father and a husband. And I have children. And I don’t want my children to carry the nuclear weapon on their back their whole life.”