North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un has appeared in public with his young daughter for the first time, confirming longstanding rumours of her existence.
The pair held hands in photos shared by state news agency KCNA as they attended the launch of the country's new type of intercontinental ballistic missile with Kim's wife Ri Sol Ju on Friday.
It is the first time North Korea’s state media has mentioned Kim's daughter or publicised her photos. The news agency did not provide further details about her such as her name and age.
Much of Kim’s private life is still unknown. But South Korean media reported Kim married Ri, a former singer, in 2009, and that the couple have three children who were born in 2010, 2013 and 2017.
The Rodong Sinmun newspaper also released a slew of photos of Kim watching a soaring missile from a distance with his daughter.
Other photos showed her with her hair pulled back, wearing a white coat and a pair of red shoes as she walked in hand-in-hand with her father by a huge missile atop a launch truck.
Kim said the launch of the Hwasong-17 missile — the North’s longest-range, nuclear-capable missile — proved he has a reliable weapon to contain US-led military threats.
It wasn’t known which child Kim took to the launch site. But 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.
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.
When he disappeared from public eye for an extended period in 2020 amid unconfirmed rumours about health conditions, global media frenzy flared over who was next in line to run an impoverished yet nuclear-armed country.
Many observers said at the time that Kim's younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, would step in and run the country if her brother was incapacitated.
The Kim family has governed North Korea with a strong personality following built around key family members since Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, founded the country in 1948.
The family’s so-called Paektu bloodline, named after the North’s most sacred mountain, allows only direct family members to rule.
“It’s much too soon to infer anything about succession within the Kim regime," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “However, publicly including his wife and daughter in what Kim claims as a historically successful missile test associates the family business of ruling North Korea with the nation’s missile programs.”
“This may be an attempt to compensate for how few economic accomplishments Kim has to support his domestic legitimacy,” Easley added.
Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea said if Kim continues to take this daughter to key public events, that could signal that she would become Kim’s successor.
“Under North Korea’s system, the children of Kim Jong Un would have the status of a prince or princess, like in a dynasty. As the Rodong Sinmnum newspaper publicized the photo of the daughter, who took after Kim Jong Un and Ri Sol Ju so much … she has no choice but to live special lives,” Cheong said.
Other observers say Kim taking his family to a missile test site indicated he was confident in the weapon’s successful launch, or that he might have tried to project an image of a normal leader including his family in his affairs.
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