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Will Kim Jong Un’s Daughter Succeed Him? High-Ranking North Korean Officials Have Doubts.

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Will Kim Jong Un’s Daughter Succeed Him? High-Ranking North Korean Officials Have Doubts.

Much attention is focused on whether Kim Ju Ae will succeed her father, but North Korean officials have other explanations for her increased visibility.

Will Kim Jong Un’s Daughter Succeed Him? High-Ranking North Korean Officials Have Doubts.

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, second right, with his daughter and his wife Ri Sol Ju, left, attends a performance to celebrate the New Year in Pyongyang, North Korea, Dec. 31, 2023. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified.

Credit: Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s daughter, Kim Ju Ae, has recently been making repeated appearances at major military events, which has led to rumors that the young girl will succeed her father as leader of the country in the future. However, high-ranking officials in North Korea say that it is “impossible” for Kim Ju Ae to become her father’s successor.

“I don’t understand why they say that,” a high-ranking source in North Korea told Daily NK on November 11, responding to a comment that some analysts in South Korea believe that Kim Ju Ae will be the successor to her father.

The source continued: “If you let a woman take power in the fourth generation, the last name of the fifth-generation leader will be different. That doesn’t make sense. When you name a successor, you think of the future. Succession is establishing the fourth generation to serve as a basis for the fifth generation.”

In short, the source argued that Kim Ju Ae’s descendants would have a family name other than Kim – the family name associated with the country’s so-called Paektu Bloodline – and that this would make a fifth generation succession impossible to achieve. The source’s argument puts on display the power of patriarchal beliefs in North Korean society; namely, that children must take their father’s last name and only sons may become successors to keep familial lines going.

Not About the Daughter, But About the “Wise Father”

In fact, some analysts say that North Korea’s leadership is not putting Kim Ju Ae on display at major events to establish her as successor but rather as part of a strategy to intensify idolization of her father.

“The North Korean leadership hasn’t finished bolstering Kim Jong Un’s unitary leadership system,” an expert at a South Korean policy think tank told Daily NK, speaking on condition of anonymity. “North Korea’s leadership is focusing on intensifying efforts to idolize Kim Jong Un, not establishing a succession. Even during the recent Fifth National Conference of Mothers, the propaganda focused on highlighting [Kim Jong Un’s] image as a loving father of the Socialist Grand Family.”

In fact, after that conference ended, Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea’s ruling party, focused on promoting Kim’s image as a wise, warm father. “Everyone cried and cried again, saying there were no other hardworking fathers of the people like our Supreme Leader [Kim Jong Un],” the paper wrote.

The expert’s argument suggests that the goal of the National Conference of Mothers was two-pronged: idolizing Kim Jong Un as the father of a great socialist family and using mothers to intensify ideological indoctrination at home to prevent young people from defecting from the regime. The expert essentially argued that the conference had nothing to do with the succession process.

However, ever since Kim Ju Ae began appearing in public, North Korea began idolizing the Kim family under the slogan “protecting the Paektu Bloodline to the death.” That is likely part of efforts to prevent people from being concerned about her social status, which to many North Koreans would be lower than a son.

“Workers’ Party officials recognize Comrade Kim Yo Jong [Kim Jong Un’s sister] as part of the Paektu Bloodline, but they don’t see her as noble,” the high-ranking source in North Korea told Daily NK. “To resolve this issue, it makes sense for [the daughter] to participate in revolutionary history with the Supreme Leader from the time she’s young.”

Using Kim’s Daughter to “Justify Development of Nuclear Weapons” 

Broadly speaking, a major reason Kim Jong Un has been taking his daughter to major military events is to justify his government’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

Kim Ju Ae first appeared in North Korean media at the launch of the Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2022. At the time, state-run media outlets ran several photos of the father and daughter walking hand-in-hand with the missile in the background. The photos were accompanied by comments that the elder Kim would continue to strengthen the country’s nuclear arsenal – the “powerful sword to protect peace” – in terms of quantity and quality to bring about the “bright smiles and beautiful dreams of future generations.”

Basically, state media aimed to present Kim Jong Un as the leader who developed nuclear weapons for the future generation, while his daughter was to be seen as a symbol of that future generation.

In lectures conducted for officials within the Workers’ Party of Korea, Ministry of State Security, Ministry of Social Security, and other major agencies after North Korea’s successful launch of a military spy satellite on November 21, speakers focused on praising the greatness of Kim Jong Un for “making North Korea a space power through his excellent leadership.” Notably, no mention was made of Kim Ju Ae during these lectures.

“The content of recent political workshops for officials continues to focus on how nuclear weapons have eliminated the clouds of war and opened the path for the untouchable Juche Revolution to last 100 years, and that North Korea’s nuclear weapons are aimed at creating a future without war,” the high-ranking source told Daily NK.

In short, North Korea’s leadership continues to stress the legitimacy of its nuclear weapons program by calling for continued weapons development to bequeath to future generations a secure nation. As such, North Korea will likely use Kim Ju Ae’s appearances at major military events as a tool to justify its development of nuclear weapons.

As an added benefit, her appearances are likely to focus foreign analysts’ attention on the country’s succession rather than on criticism of North Korea’s advancement of its nuclear program.

“With more than 85 percent of Kim Ju Ae’s activities focused on the military, our fundamental perception of North Korea’s advancement of its nuclear weapons and missiles is growing a bit blurred as we see it through the frame of succession,” Hong Min, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) told Daily NK.

In short, Hong argued that some analysts are focusing on whether Kim Ju Ae will succeed her father rather than analyzing the fundamental reasons why the North Korean leadership is having her appear at test launches related to the country’s nuclear program.

“The North Korean government wants to dilute the provocative threat posed by the advancement of its nuclear weapons by shifting attention to Kim Ju Ae,” Hong said. “As the debate over the succession continues, North Korea is likely to use the debate to sow confusion as part of its psychological warfare against South Korea and the United States.”

This article first appeared in Daily NK, which contacts multiple sources inside and outside North Korea to verify information. The Diplomat was not able to verify the claims independently.