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Dhaka Tribune

The Great Successor? Who is North Korea’s Kim Ju Ae

  • Kim Jong Un’s teenage daughter is being groomed as future leader
  • Her public role at a young age raises concerns
Update : 22 Mar 2024, 10:38 AM

She oversees military drills with her father, a military marshal knelt before her, state media use leader-level honorifics to describe her -- a fresh slew of signals indicate Kim Jong Un’s teenage daughter Ju Ae could be North Korea’s next ruler. AFP takes a look at what we know about her: 

Who is she?

First introduced to the world in 2022, when she accompanied her father to the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, analysts have long said Ju Ae is the equivalent of a North Korean “princess”.

Pyongyang’s state media have never identified her by name, but South Korean intelligence says she’s Ju Ae, the daughter of Kim and his wife, former star singer and first lady Ri Sol Ju, who they believe married in 2009.

She was once thought to be Kim’s second child, but last year Seoul said it was “unable to confirm for sure” that a once-suspected older son actually existed.

It is unclear exactly how old she is. Former NBA star Dennis Rodman visited the North in 2013 and claimed he’d met a baby daughter of Kim’s called Ju Ae.

And her mother?

Kim’s wife, former star singer Ri Sol Ju, first appeared in state media in 2012 and has been regarded as one of the most high-profile women in the isolated, deeply patriarchal nation.

She has accompanied her husband on numerous “field guidance trips” and to high-profile summits with foreign leaders, often dressing in luxury brands and once sporting a Christian Dior handbag.

Her public presence, and official title of First Lady, which Kim gave her in 2018, was a departure from precedent in the North, where the wives of the previous two leaders -- Kim’s father and grandfather -- rarely made public appearances, with details about their lives mostly kept secret. 

In recent years, Ri is still seen accompanying her husband and daughter, although Kim has recently been choosing to bring Ju Ae, rather than his wife, as his partner to key events.

How is she treated?

North Korean adults have been shown bowing deeply before her in state media.

At a military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the country’s founding, Marshal Pak Jong Chon, one of the most powerful military officials in the North, was seen kneeling by Ju Ae.

This suggests she is “almost definitely” being groomed as the next leader of the nuclear-armed country, Ahn Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies, told AFP.

“Pak represents the North Korean military, and he’s basically publicly pledged his allegiance to Ju Ae,” he said.

What’s her style?

Kim Jong Un is known for his love of leather jackets, and is often photographed wearing one at official engagements, while Ju Ae follows his sartorial lead.

In November, the pair were photographed wearing similar-looking leather jackets, both wearing sunglasses.

Kim Jong Un himself adopted the hairstyle, dress, mannerisms, public speaking style and even handwriting of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the founder of the North.

Analysts say this is a way to emphasise the so-called Paektu bloodline -- a Northern term for the ruling Kim family, who have led the nuclear-armed country since its foundation.

No woman has run the country before, but Ju Ae’s “belonging to the sacred Paektu bloodline of the Kim clan and the will of the current leader, if he is to make her his successor, will outweigh her gender,” Vladimir Tikhonov, professor of Korean Studies at the University of Oslo, told AFP.

Tough life? 

Ju Ae, who has been seen wearing what appeared to be a Dior coat, undoubtedly enjoys a life of luxury, but “she is being used for adults’ ideological and political purposes and has to do public things for which she is too young,” Tikhonov said.

Videos released by state media have shown a young girl who can at times appear tired or seem to fidget at official events.

“At the end of the day, she’s still a child,” Soo Kim, a former CIA analyst and principal technical advisor at LMI Consulting, told AFP.

“The highly public, highly staged role is not something most children at her age would be suited for naturally.”

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