Kim Jong Un’s daughter and North Korea’s succession plans

The North Korean leader has made several recent appearances at military events with his young daughter at his side

People watch a television screen showing Kim Jong Un and his daughter attending a military parade
TV coverage shows Kim Jong Un and Kim Ju Ae at a military parade in Pyongyang this month
(Image credit: Kim Jae-Hwan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Kim Jong Un has been appearing at official military events with his young daughter by his side, prompting suggestions that Kim Ju Ae – thought to be only nine or ten years old – is being groomed to become North Korea’s next leader.

Little has so far been revealed in North Korea about the leader’s children. The first time Kim Ju Ae made a public appearance was November 2022, when she joined her father at the test launch of a Hwasong-17 missile, said The Guardian. “She has since been seen at a meeting with military scientists and at a ballistic missile inspection,” the paper added.

Last week marked the fifth time that Kim Ju Ae accompanied her father to an event, and this occasion was seen as particularly significant. It was the country’s “biggest display yet of long-range missiles”, according to The Guardian, a parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army, North Korea’s military force.

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The leader’s daughter was seen cheering alongside her father as the missiles passed in the parade, and was seated between her parents at the preceding military banquet.

What do we know about Kim Ju Ae?

The international press first learnt of Ju Ae’s name via Dennis Rodman, the controversial former US basketball player who has been a confidant of the North Korean leader, said The Spectator. Rodman leaked the name, saying he had held the baby on a visit. The timelines match up with the child being roughly nine or ten years old.

“Western observers believe Kim Jong Un has three children and that Ju Ae is his middle child, though this can’t be verified by anyone outside North Korea,” said CNN.

Why this child is being singled out is impossible to say with the information available. However, there is precedent for selecting a future leader at a young age. Kim Jong Il – Kim Jong Un’s father – apparently did the same thing, and also did not select his eldest child.

“It is known that Kim Jong Il told his aides that Kim Jong Un would be his successor while performing a song called ‘Footsteps’ to praise Kim Jong Un on his 8th birthday,” Cheong Seong-chang,​ a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea, told CNN. However, he added that this was a private announcement and one the outside world had not been aware of at the time.

Could her appearances mean anything else?

It might be too soon to assume this young girl has been selected to run a dangerous nuclear power.

“Some analysts believe her presence may be a ploy to cultivate Kim’s image as a family man,” said The Daily Telegraph.

It could also be a way to “redirect the world’s attention back to Pyongyang’s military after audience fatigue set in following a year of record missile testing”, Chun In-bum, a retired South Korean general, told CNN.

“I think the North Koreans have either stumbled upon or have figured out that this is one way of getting international attention. And so with all the interest that is accumulating, they’re enjoying themselves,” he said.

The events selected for Kim Ju Ae’s attendance are also significant, focusing heavily on military strength. At the anniversary banquet last week the leader’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, was even spotted wearing a pendant in the shape of North Korea’s largest intercontinental ballistic missile, the Telegraph said.

“By ostentatiously including his wife and daughter, Kim wants observers at home and abroad to see his family dynasty and the North Korean military as irrevocably linked,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, told CNN.

How is Kim Ju Ae’s presence understood in North Korea?

One of the clearest signs that Kim Jong Un’s daughter is being groomed for power is the way she has been referred to in the state-owned media.

While the media still does not reveal her name, she has begun being referred to as his most “beloved” and “respected” daughter, terms usually reserved for those with very special status, said CNN.

In addition to this, the South China Morning Post has reported that multiple unnamed sources in North Korea told Radio Free Asia that the North’s authorities are forcing people named Ju Ae to change their name. This is “part of the regime’s effort to idolate the young girl”, said the Hong Kong-based paper.

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