Kim Jong Un’s daughter tags along to missile launch, again raising questions about succession plans

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(SEOUL, South Korea) — North Korea’s state newspaper published pictures of Kim Ju Ae, the famous 10-year-old daughter of Kim Jong Un, again overseeing a missile test site on Monday.

The outside world is looking at the dictator’s young daughter with curiosity, as the girl shakes hands with experienced military officials and sits alongside the North Korean leader wearing extravagant clothes that lure attention. North Korea watchers are scratching their heads, wondering what Pyongyang’s intentions behind her emergence are.

It’s been slightly over a year since images of Kim Ju-Ae were published in North Korea’s newspapers. On Nov. 18 of last year, the North’s state news outlet published pictures in which the North Korean leader was posing in front of Pyongyang’s much-touted monster missile Hwasong-17 with his daughter.

As her public presence persists, the question of whether she may become the next North Korean leader continues to be reexamined. South Korean government’s official position is that they are looking at all possibilities.

“This administration does not rule out the possibility that Kim Ju Ae may become the next North Korean leader,” Seoul’s Unification Minister Kim Yung Ho admitted during last week’s press briefing with foreign press. “North Korea’s continued emphasis on Kim Ju Ae is proof that they are in a bit of a hurry to publicize the regime’s hereditary succession. As the level of protocol for Kim Ju-ae continues to rise, military commanders were also spotted saluting Kim Ju Ae.”

Successor or not, one thing is for sure, Pyongyang is taking advantage of the international interest in the dictator’s daughter and deliberately bringing her to events that need attention. Over 80% of her public appearances were related to nuclear missiles or strategic weapons, according to Korea Institute for National Unification’s research.

“North Korea’s media intends to utilize Kim Ju Ae as a representation for key military occasions,” Dr. Hong Min, director of the North Korean Research Division at Korea Institute for National Unification, told ABC News. “It can also be seen in a way that the heavy image of a nuclear missile is diluted by featuring a 10-year-old daughter.”

Minister Kim explained to journalists that the propagation related to Kim’s daughter may have to do with North Korea trying to strengthen the shaky internal solidarity. Despite health problem rumors that come to the surface every few years, Kim Jong Un is still a young dictator in his 40s, capable of ruling the regime for a few more decades.

“It is 15 years too early to discuss the future North Korean leader,” Hong pointed out. “There is no reason for North Korea to begin the work on succession, and as far as intel is concerned, he has other children too.”

The social atmosphere of North Korea casts a realistic objection to Kim Ju Ae as a successor. Not to mention that North Korea, a regime that was built on top of military power, is traditionally a male-oriented society, Pyongyang needs to pass on the political power to their family heritage, and a female successor may result in a leader with a different last name one day.

“It is unusual in the North Korean system to introduce a female, especially a minor, as a successor. Both the late Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un were known to the public as a successor in their adulthood,” Thae Yong-ho, a North Korean defector who was elected to become a lawmaker in Seoul, told ABC News. “But I think it is reasonable to think that the regime could be imprinting Kim Ju Ae as the successor given that Kim Jong Un continues to bring her to ICBM tests and military parades which are considered a vital family business.”

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