North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was pictured with his daughter for the first time in photographs showing the couple holding hands inspecting the launch of the country’s largest ballistic missile.
North Korea tested a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Friday, the official KCNA news agency reported on Saturday.
The biggest surprise, however, was the presence of Kim’s daughter, whose existence had never been publicly confirmed before.
KCNA did not name the girl, who is seen in photographs in a white coat holding her father’s hand as they watch the missile.
“This is the first time we’ve seen Kim Jong-un’s daughter at a public event,” said Michael Madden, a North Korean leadership expert at the Stimson Center in Washington.
“It’s very meaningful and represents a degree of comfort on Kim Jong-un’s part that he’s bringing her out in public like this.”
Kim would have up to three children, two girls and a boy, experts said. Some observers believe one of these children was seen in footage of a national holiday celebration in September.
In 2013, retired American basketball star Dennis Rodman said Kim had a “baby” daughter named Ju Ae. After a trip to North Korea that year, Rodman told the Guardian he spent time with Kim and her family and held the baby.
Ju Ae is estimated to be around 12-13 years old, which means that in about four to five years she will be preparing to attend college or do her military service, Madden said.
“It would indicate that she will be educated and trained to be a leader – it could prepare her to take on the position of central leader or she could become an advisor and behind-the-scenes player like her aunt,” he said.
North Korea never announced who would follow Kim if incapacitated, and with few details known about his young children, analysts had speculated that his sister and her loyalists might form a regency until that a successor is old enough to take over.
The appearance of the leader’s daughter at this event could suggest a fourth-generation hereditary succession and that North Korean elites should prepare for this eventuality, Madden added. “His presence is aimed at an elite audience,” he said.
Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, also made a rare appearance at Friday’s launch, according to KCNA.
“Every time Ri Sol Ju appears, there is a strategic message involved. Normally designed to ease tensions, counter other aggressive messages (like ballistics tests) or show the cohesion of the Kim family in times of internal turmoil,” said Ken Gause, a North Korean leadership expert at CNA, a US-based non-profit research organization.
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