Is North Korea’s Kim Jong-un preparing his ‘most beloved’ daughter Ju-ae to be his successor?
- Ju-ae has been photographed in public twice in the past nine days, fuelling debate she is being primed as successor to her father, Kim Jong-un
- One analyst believes the young girl’s appearances are linked to the North Korean leader’s bid to be perceived as a stable father figure
On Sunday, photos released by the state Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) showed her wearing a long black winter coat with her hair partially tied back, walking hand in hand with her father.
KCNA described her as Kim’s “most beloved” or “precious” child, a more honorific title than her previous description of “(Kim’s) beloved” child.
The new photos and the designation added to speculation that Ju-ae was next in line to rule the country.
Kim Jong-un himself accompanied his father Kim Jong-il on various inspection trips. The late Marshall Hyon Chol-hae was the first among North Korean military leaders to catch on that Kim Jong-un was being groomed as successor – a realisation that brought him career success and high status, said Kim Sung-min, who runs Free North Korea Radio.
“Many top party officials and military generals probably think they’ve taken a cue from the leader and will soon begin to show support and loyalty to her,” he added.
The earliest signs Pyongyang was engineering a cult of personality around Kim Jong-un came as early as 1992, when a song of praise for him, titled “The March”, began to be performed publicly before party officials.
Likelihood of a female North Korean leader?
On Sunday, the state newspaper splashed the front and second page with 15 pictures showing the daughter accompanying her father.
“Rodong Sinmun has hinted in clearer terms than before that Ju-ae would be the successor when it described her as the leader’s most beloved child,” analyst Cheong Seong-chang of the private Sejong Institute said.
“For a king who has many children, it’s natural for him to make his most beloved child as his successor,” Cheong said, adding Ju-ae was likely to continue appearing with her father at public events and undergo succession training.
Kim Jong-un is believed to have three children: a boy born in 2010, Ju-ae born in 2013, and another son born in 2017. There are scant details around the names of the sons or other information concerning the children, said Yang Moo-jin, a political-science professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
Yang also warned about reading too much into the daughter’s public appearances, which may be linked to Kim Jong-un’s attempt to be seen as a stable father figure.
“A real successor would be tightly kept under wraps before a personality cult around the successor starts increasing. But the fact that Ju-ae has been unveiled so early indicates that she is not the successor,” Yang said. “Rather, Kim Jong-un wants to project an image of a caring father with a normal family, which would help boost the stability of his leadership.”
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said by connecting his daughter to what the North claims is the world’s most powerful weapon, Kim Jong-un is “trying to maximise political benefits of the Hwasong-17”.
“However, these developments aren’t enough to predict an end to North Korea’s current provocation cycle or jump to conclusions about Kim’s health or anointed successor,” he added.