After years of speculation, Kim Jong Un revealed his daughter to the public on Friday, releasing photographs of the two standing hand-in-hand to observe a supposedly successful intercontinental ballistic missile launch.
North Korea’s state news agency KCNA has published several undated photos said to be from the launch, in which Kim Jong Un talks and holds hands with a young girl, who is seen wearing a puffy white coat and red shoes. In the photos, the two can be seen inspecting missiles and observing the show of military strength from a viewing deck.
State media said Kim observed the launch with his wife, former singer Ri Sol Ju, and his “beloved daughter,” NBC News reports. (State media did not release the girl’s name or age.)
Experts believe North Korea’s Supreme Leader has fathered “as many as” three children, per the BBC—two girls and a boy. The girl seen in the photos is said to be the oldest, Kim Ju Ae.
According to the Washington Post, North Korean state media reported that Friday’s was the second launch of its kind this month. Vice President Kamala Harris has condemned the North Korean test as a “brazen violation” of United Nations Security Council resolutions, according to NBC News.
Ken Gause, a North Korea leadership expert with the nonprofit research organization CNA, told Reuters that whenever Ri Sol Ju appears at public events, “there is strategic messaging involved.”
Such appearances, Gause added, are usually “designed to tamp down tensions, counter other aggressive messaging (like tests), or show Kim family cohesion in times of internal troubles.”
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, offered a theory on one possible “trouble” while speaking with the Associated Press, suggesting that the show “may be an attempt to compensate for how few economic accomplishments Kim has to support his domestic legitimacy.”
By including his wife and daughter in the supposedly successful test, Easley added, Kim “associates the family business of ruling North Korea with the nation’s missile programs.”
By including his daughter in the missile display, Kim Jong Un also seems to be hinting at his line of succession. He’s the third generation of his family to lead the nation his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, founded. Following a speculated “period of ill health” in 2020, per NBC News, discussion has begun to increase regarding who will succeed the notoriously secretive leader.
Speaking with the BBC, Michael Madden—a North Korea expert from the Stimson Center in Washington—placed Ju Ae’s age at between 12 and 13. With this public reveal, he told the outlet, Kim is telling the world “that the fourth generation of power succession is going to come through my [blood]line.”