Kim Jong-un’s ‘most beloved child’ will be his successor: Expert

Kim Jong-un and his daughter Ju Ae with scientists, engineers and military officials involved in the test of a new ballistic missile. - AP

SEOUL (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): If a Korean king has several children, he will appoint his “most beloved one” as the crown prince.

In the same vein, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appears to have chosen his second child - nine-year-old Ju Ae - as his successor, and is paving the way for her to ascend the throne in due course, according to an analysis by leading North Korea expert Cheong Seong-chang of South Korea-based The Sejong Institute think-tank.

The world had a first glimpse of her on Nov 19, when North Korean state media released photos of her walking alongside her father as he inspected the successful launch of a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) the day before.

She was not named, but South Korea’s National Intelligence Agency later identified her as Ju Ae - the second daughter of Kim and his wife Ri Sol Ju, born in 2013.

The girl, who bears a striking resemblance to her parents, hogged headlines again on Nov 27, when she posed with her father, as well as officials, scientists, technicians and workers who “made a great contribution” to the recent ICBM launch.

The frequency of her appearance has triggered speculation about succession and raised questions if patriarchal North Korea is ready to accept a woman as its leader for the first time in its history.

State media Rodong Sinmun newspaper used the term “most beloved child” to refer to Ju Ae in her second outing and used as many as 15 photos of her and her father, compared to six during her debut and calling her “beloved child”. Dr Cheong said the “elevated treatment made it clearer that Kim Ju Ae will be Kim Jong Un’s successor”.

He also noted that it was “very exceptional” for the media to address Kim’s daughter as his “beloved child”, when his wife is called “Comrade Ri” rather than “Respected First Lady”.

He added that the way the daughter was photographed, either holding hands with her father or putting her hand on his shoulder, also “proves Kim Jong-un’s great affection for her”.

Another sign of her status is a letter written by the group of ICBM contributors which was published in Rodong Sinmun, said Dr Cheong.

The group attributed the success of the launch to Kim’s “careful guidance” and the fact that he “came to the field personally together with (his) most beloved child”.

They also vowed their “eternal loyalty to the Baekdu bloodline” - referring to the Kim dynasty that goes back to Kim’s grandfather Kim Il-sung who founded the country in 1948.

Dr Cheong said this means they recognise Ju Ae as a descendent of the Baekdu bloodline.

The North Korean leader and his wife are said to have three children born in 2010, 2013 and 2017. Their first-born is said to be a son, while the third child’s gender is not known.

Their daughter’s existence was first revealed in 2013 by former American basketball star Dennis Rodman who visited the country and met Kim. He described Kim as a “good dad (who) has a beautiful family” and said he “held their baby Ju Ae”.

Given North Korea’s deep-seated patriarchy though, Dr Cheong said, it “can be difficult even for Kim Jong-un to designate his daughter, not his son, as the fourth leader of North Korea”.

But other experts feel it is too early to tell if Ju Ae is indeed the heir apparent.

Ewha Womans University’s associate professor of international studies Leif-Eric Easley said Mr Kim is only “trying to maximise political benefits” of the new ICBM by “connecting his daughter to what North Korea claims is the world’s most powerful weapon”.

When asked by The Straits Times about Ju Ae, United States ambassador to South Korea Philip Seth Goldberg said he is more concerned about the ICBM test than the girl.

Speaking at a foreign media briefing on Dec 1, he also said it is too early to think about whether the gender of North Korea’s leader would matter in talks with the US.

“But we do feel very strongly about gender equality,” he added.

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North Korea , Kim Jong-un , daughter


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