North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is a mysterious man.
Because North Korea operates under a hereditary dictatorship, not much is known about the private life of the state leader, and any information that is shared is heavily controlled by state-run media.
So, when Kim appeared at a missile launch last Friday, hand-in-hand with his daughter, the world was shocked.
It’s the first time Kim’s daughter has been acknowledged by the country’s media, let alone shared video of her, and the first time any of Kim’s reported children have appeared in public.
In fact, the country’s media has never reported on Kim’s children, but South Korean media has speculated that Kim has three children, who are believed to have been born in 2010, 2013 and 2017.
North Korea’s state media said Saturday that Kim had observed the launch of its new type of intercontinental ballistic missile with his wife Ri Sol-ju, their “beloved daughter” and other officials the previous day.
It isn’t known, specifically, which child Kim took to the launch site. The BBC reports that the girl’s name is believed to be Kim Chu-ae. North Korean media did not name the girl, who appeared at the missile test in a white coat, black pants and a long ponytail.
The identities of Kim’s children are a source of strong outside interest as the 38-year-old ruler hasn’t publicly anointed an heir apparent.
Kim disappeared from the public eye for an extended period of time in 2020 and rumours swirled that his health may be failing. There was a frenzy in the global media over who was next in line to take over the impoverished country’s rule.
Michael Madden, a North Korea leadership expert at the Stimson Center in Washington, called the girl’s first public appearance “highly significant.”
“It… represents a certain degree of comfort on Kim Jong Un’s part, that he would bring her out in public in such fashion,” he told The Associated Press.
The BBC’s Seoul correspondent, Jean Mackenzie, said the daughter’s unveiling also raises other questions.
“Why unveil her now?” Mackenzie wrote. “She is still very young. If he is preparing her to take over, could this mean the 38-year-old leader has health issues? His health is the subject of much speculation, as it is seen to present the biggest risk to the stability of the regime.”
Mackenzie also pondered whether the daughter’s appearance means that she will one day play a role in the country’s nuclear weapons program.
“Unveiling her at such a significant launch suggests she will one day play a role in developing the country’s weapons.”
In 2013, after a trip to Pyongyang, retired NBA star Dennis Rodman told the Guardian that he and Kim had a “relaxing time by the sea” with the leader’s family and that he held Kim’s baby daughter, named Ju-ae. It is not known if Kim Ju-ae and Kim Chu-ae are the same person.
Rodman said he spent time with the family, describing Kim as “a good dad” and that he spoke to Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju.
“I held their baby Ju-ae and spoke with Ms. Ri as well,” he told the newspaper.
— with files from The Associated Press
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