Kim’s daughter might be heir apparent: Seoul

AFP/March 19, 2024

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification yesterday added its voice to growing speculation around North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s succession plans, saying they have not “ruled out” that his daughter could be next in line to lead the nation.

Pyongyang state media on Saturday referred to Kim’s teenage daughter as a “great person of guidance” — hyangdo in Korean — a term typically reserved exclusively for top leaders and their successors.

Analysts said it was the first time Kim’s daughter — never named by Pyongyang, but identified as Ju-ae by South Korean intelligence — had been described as such by the North.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, and his daughter, Ju-ae, center, visit the Kwangchon Chicken Farm near Pyongyang on Jan. 7.
Photo: Reuters / Korean Central News Agency

It has redoubled speculation that the teen, who often appears next to her father at key public events, could have been chosen as the next leader of the nuclear-armed North, for a third hereditary succession.

“Usually the term hyangdo is only used to refer to the highest-ranking official,” unification ministry spokesman Koo Byoung-sam said at a briefing.

“We are not ruling out the possibility of Ju-ae’s succession,” he said, adding that Seoul was “monitoring the situation and remaining open to possibilities.”

However, he warned that if Ju Ae were to take her father’s place as the fourth leader of the reclusive state, “North Korean people will bear the brunt of the fallout.”

Ju-ae was first introduced to the world by state media in 2022, when she accompanied her father to the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Since then, the North’s official outlets have referred to her in various ways, including the “morning star of Korea” and “beloved child.”

She has been seen at many of her father’s official engagements, including military drills, a visit to a weapons factory and a stop at a new chicken farm.

In an image released by Pyongyang on Saturday, Ju Ae was seen using binoculars to observe recent paratroop drills, standing beside her father and senior military officials.

Before 2022, the only confirmation of her existence had come from former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who visited the North in 2013 and claimed he met a baby daughter of Kim called Ju-ae.

Seoul had initially indicated that Kim and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, had their first child, a boy, in 2010, and that Ju-ae was their second child.

However, last year, Seoul’s unification minister said that the government was “unable to confirm for sure” the existence of Kim’s son.

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