Who is Kim Jong-un’s Daughter, and Why Has She Been Appearing in Public So Often?
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Like so much about the secretive supreme leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un’s family is shrouded in mystery. It is believed he has three children, but the names of two of them are unknown, as is the gender of his youngest child.
But in recent months, his daughter Kim Ju-ae, who is believed to be about 10 years old, has been making numerous high-profile public appearances alongside her father, most recently at the March 16 firing of an intercontinental ballistic test missile.
These appearances have led to speculation that Kim Jong-un, 39, is grooming Ju-ae as his successor, which would position her to become the first female leader in North Korea’s history. Other observers, however, stressed that such speculation could be premature, as little is known about the inner workings of the Kim family or the elder Kim’s succession plans.
Born Into Luxury and Secrecy
It is believed Kim Jong-un has three children: Kim Ju-ae, an older brother whose name is unknown, and a younger sibling whose name and gender are unknown. Neither of Ju-ae’s siblings have made public appearances. Their mother is Ri Sol-ju, who is believed to have married Kim Jong-un in 2012.
Kim Ju-ae and her siblings are said to live in a seaside estate in Wonsan, in the southeastern province of Kangwon. The property has swimming pools, water slides, soccer fields, tennis courts, and a sports stadium. It is believed she is homeschooled in Pyongyang, and her hobbies include horseback riding, swimming, and skiing, according to South Korean intelligence officials.
Kim Ju-ae’s name only became known outside North Korea when Dennis Rodman, the former basketball star known for his unorthodox friendship with Kim Jong-un, revealed he “held their baby Ju-ae” during a 2013 visit to the family. He also called Kim Jong-un a “good dad.”
Her Increasingly Public Profile
Kim Ju-ae made her first public appearance at a ballistic missile firing on November 18, 2022. Images released by state-run news outlets showed her wearing a white puffer jacket, black pants, and red shoes and walking hand-in-hand with her father.
She has made about a half-dozen more public appearances since that time, including a major banquet to celebrate the 75th anniversary of North Korea’s army. Journalist and North Korea expert Jean H. Lee compared it to when Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, was first presented to the public by his father during a military parade on the same day 75 years earlier.
“When you look at these pictures, she’s front and center. She is there. It’s like this tableau of father, mother, daughter,” Lee told Sky News. “I think what people noticed, of course, first and foremost was, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s presenting his daughter.’ What does that mean?”
Speculation that Kim Ju-ae could be her father’s successor was further fueled when the North Korean media, which is largely state-run, stopped describing her as Kim Jong-un’s “beloved” daughter, and instead began calling her his “noble” and “respected” daughter, descriptions used only for the most honored members of North Korean society.
Uncertainty Over Succession
Successor or not, analysts say her increasingly public profile marks an effort to present the Kim family like a traditional European monarchy and to bring legitimacy to the hereditary succession of the Kim bloodline. “I’m sure there is, in some part, a strategy of trying to portray themselves kind of like the royal family in the United Kingdom,” Lee told Sky News.
Some remain skeptical that the North Korean military would accept a female leader, with a former senior member of the Workers’ Party of Korea saying it could even lead to a coup. Some experts believe Kim Jong-un’s unnamed son will be the true successor, and Kim Ju-ae’s public appearances are simply meant to act as a “shield” for him.
However, Lee points out that there are already several women working in high office in North Korea, including Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son-hui. Additionally, Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong is one of his top foreign policy officials.
“One thing about North Korea that’s very interesting is that women do take on leadership roles,” Lee said. Whether Kim Ju-ae inherits one remains to be seen.