South Korea said Wednesday that it’s still premature to determine whether the recently unveiled daughter of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is being groomed as her father’s successor.
Speculation about the status of Kim’s daughter, reportedly named Kim Ju Ae and aged about 10, has further intensified since she recently took center stage at a massive military parade in Pyongyang and appeared in soon-to-be-released postal stamps — both events with her all-powerful father.
During a parliamentary committee meeting in Seoul, Unification Minister Kwon Youngse, South Korea’s top official on North Korea, questioned a belief that she is being primed as the North’s next leader. Kwon cited Kim Jong Un’s relatively young age — Kim turned 39 last month — and North Korea’s male-dominated power hierarchy.
“There are views that (her appearances) are aimed at talking about a hereditary power transition. But considering Kim Jong Un’s age and the fact that North Korea has a much more patriarchal nature than ours, there are also lots of questions about whether North Korea having a woman (prepared to) inherit power now is indeed right,” Kwon told lawmakers.
Kwon said the girl’s repeated appearances in recent months were more likely meant to shore up public support of Kim’s ruling family and prepare for a future hereditary power transfer.
South Korean media have speculated Kim Jong Un also has a son who is older than Kim Ju Ae and a third child, likely a daughter. But Kwon said only Kim Ju Ae is her father’s officially confirmed child.
North Korea disclosed Kim Ju Ae in November by announcing she watched an intercontinental ballistic missile test with her father. She has since made four other public appearances, including last week’s military parade.
State media have called her Kim’s “most beloved” or “respected” child and published a slew of photos and video showing her closeness with her father. She was seen touching Kim’s cheek at an observation stand for the military parade and sitting in the seat of honor at an earlier banquet while being flanked by her parents and generals, in what observers say had been unimaginable in North Korea because Kim is the subject of a personality cult that treats him like a god.
Designs released by North Korea’s state-run Korea Stamp Corporation earlier this week also show Kim Ju Ae being featured in five of eight new stamps that are set to be circulated starting Friday to celebrate the November flight test of the Hwasong-17 ICBM, an event she attended. The stamps carried previously publicized images showing the girl holding her father’s hand as they walked near the missile and posing for photos with her father in front of a wall of clapping soldiers days after the Hwasong-17 launch.
After her first public appearance, the National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s main spy agency, told lawmakers that she was Kim’s second child, according to some of the legislators who attended a closed-door briefing. The spy service later said it believed that by taking his daughter to public events, Kim Jong Un aims to show the public his resolve to hand over power to one of his children in the future, though it assessed the younger Kim’s appearances did not necessarily mean she would succeed her father.
The name of Ju Ae matched what retired NBA star Dennis Rodman named Kim’s baby daughter, whom he said he saw and held during his trip to Pyongyang in 2013. Rodman told the British newspaper the Guardian that Kim Jong Un was a “good dad” to his daughter and that “the Marshal Kim and I had a relaxing time by the sea with his family.”
Since its foundation in 1948, North Korea has been successively ruled by male members of the Kim family. Outside studies show only a fraction of top North Korean officials are women, including Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, and Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui. Before Kim Jong Un took power in late 2011, his father Kim Jong Il governed for 17 years, and before him, his father and state founder, Kim Il Sung, ruled for 46 years.
“It’s too soon to assume that (Kim Ju Ae) will be his heir because the son has always succeeded the throne in North Korea,” said Duyeon Kim, a senior analyst at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. “So we don’t yet know if Kim Jong Un is willing to break tradition regarding the gender of his successor or if she will play a key role to support whoever Kim appoints.”