This photo released on November 19, 2022 by the North Korean government shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (right) and his daughter at the site of a missile launch at Pyongyang International Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Friday, November 18. November , 2022. Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via Associated Press
For years, Kim Jong Un’s daughter – Kim Ju Ae – was a mystery to the world.
But in late 2022, state media began showing photos of her at North Korean military events.
Ju Ae has since participated in multiple rocket launches, raising questions about Kim’s intentions.
North Korea tested its largest ICBM on Thursday, marking the country’s latest attempt to boost its weapons program amid joint US-South Korea military exercises.
Photos released by state media after the launch appear to show the country’s leader Kim Jong Un looking on with a girl identified by analysts and pundits as his daughter Kim Ju Ae.
For years, Ju Ae was shrouded in mystery. But in recent months, the authoritarian regime’s news outlet has routinely published pictures of the teenager alongside Kim at the country’s biggest military events. A North Korea expert told Insider that the notable shift may carry a political message – that Kim views the country’s weapons program, which the US and the UN have condemned, as a legacy pact.
“I think it kind of reinforces the idea that the guns are there for protection, they’re for the people, they’re for the next generations,” said Jenny Town, director of the 38 North Program at the Stimson Center think tank.
In Thursday’s missile test, the Hwasong-17 ICBM reached a maximum altitude of over 3,700 miles and flew over 620 miles into waters off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, en route in over 69 minutes, according to state news agency KCNA.
“The exercise confirmed the wartime readiness of the ICBM unit and the exceptional militancy of the DPRK’s strategic forces and rigorously verified their reliability,” KCNA wrote of the test, held amid 11-day joint military exercises between US and South Korean forces. called the Freedom Shield.
A photo from the launch appears to show Kim and Ju Ae watching the Hwasong-17 from a balcony overlooking Pyongyang Airport. It was just the latest in a string of military events – from missile tests to parades – that she was present at.
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, watches an ICBM test launch with a young woman who looks like his daughter at Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea, Thursday , March 16, 2023. Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP
An “unprecedented practice”
Little is known about Ju Ae apart from a few details. Her existence was first revealed by former NBA player Dennis Rodman, who mentioned her by name in a media interview after a trip to North Korea in 2013. She is around 10 years old and is thought to be Kim’s second of three children.
So far, Town said, the world has really only seen Ju Ae at military-focused events.
The North Korean government first released Ju Ae during a missile launch in November 2022, showing her holding hands with Kim as they walked past the giant Hwasong-17 ICBM. KCNA confirmed that Kim visited the website with his “beloved daughter and wife,” and experts later pointed to Ju Ae’s public exposure.
Kim’s other two children, one of whom is said to be older than Ju Ae, are not shown in the pictures released by the regime.
This photo released on November 19, 2022 by the North Korean government shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (right) and his daughter inspecting a missile at Pyongyang International Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday November 18 2022. Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via Associated Press
Ju Ae has since made several appearances at North Korean military events, which have been publicized by state media. After the ICBM launch in mid-November, a photo released in late November showed her alongside her father and uniformed personnel in front of a launcher.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter attend in this undated photo taken on March 27, 2022 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
In early February, Ju Ae took part in a military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean army, where the country unveiled a new design for its most deadly ICBM to date. That same month, she also appeared with her parents at a banquet in Pyongyang and watched a soccer game to celebrate North Korea’s Shining Star Day, which commemorates the birth of Kim Jong-il, the country’s second dictator .
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter Kim Ju Ae take part in a military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean army at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea February 8, 2023 North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency The North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, his wife Ri Sol Ju and their daughter Kim Ju Ae attend a banquet celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army in Pyongyang, North Korea, the following day, February 7, 2023. KCNA via REUTERS North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un reacts while watching sports matches in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by North Korea’s Central News Agency (KCNA), February 17, 2023. KCNA via REUTERS
In early March, Ju Ae sat next to her father and watched what was said to be an artillery drill at an undisclosed location. And most recently, she watched the ICBM launch on Thursday.
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects an alleged artillery drill with his daughter at an undisclosed location in North Korea on Thursday, March 9, 2023. Korean Central News Agency/Korea news service via AP
“It’s remarkable that she’s in the public eye at all… and that’s really an unprecedented practice,” Town said. “In general, the Kim family never showed their children in public when they were young. So that’s a whole new thing that we’re seeing.”
Deadly weapons – for the people
Some analysts and pundits have speculated that all of Ju Ae’s public appearances over the past few months could be a signal that Kim is positioning her as his successor. Others have suggested that Kim is trying to emphasize the importance of his bloodline — that Kim would like one of his descendants to lead the country after his death, as his father and grandfather did before him — or that his family is deeply intertwined with North Korea’s nuclear power is program.
Town said while there are various ways to interpret Ju Ae’s public performances, they appear to be carrying political messages in the wake of a shift in North Korea’s nuclear stance.
The country passed a law in September 2022 allowing it to carry out pre-emptive nuclear strikes when its leadership is threatened, reversing a 2013 law that emphasized strikes as a retaliatory measure. Kim said in September that the new status was “irreversible.”
North Korea has since shifted its nuclear rhetoric to move away from dependency on anything and instead position itself as a nuclear-armed state to protect its people and future generations, Town said.
Ju Ae’s presence at these military events “emphasises the long-term vision” and “longevity” of North Korea’s nuclear program, Town said. She was referring to the first images released by Ju Ae and Kim in November – watching the launch of Hwasong-17 in the background – which she says highlights a legacy narrative and reinforces the message that the weapons are used to protect, to serving North Korean people and to future generations.
North Korea has also hinted at this idea. After the ICBM test in November, state media reportedly said nuclear weapons and missiles were designed to protect the country’s children. As the ruling Worker’s Party paper put it, they are “monuments to be passed on to our descendants for generations to come”.
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