The daughter of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who was recently seen in public for the first time, is his second child, aged about 10, South Korea’s spy agency told politicians on Tuesday.
On Saturday, North Korea released photos of Mr Kim at the launch of the country’s most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile, named Hwasong-17. He was accompanied by his wife Ri Sol-ju and their “beloved daughter,” state media reported.
The girl, thought to be named Kim Ju-ae, stood hand-in-hand with Mr Kim and later watched the test from a viewing platform.
In a closed-door briefing at a parliament committee, AP reported that South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, the country’s main spy agency, told politicians that it assesses the daughter is Mr Kim’s second child and is about 10, Yoo Sang-bum, one of the politicians who attended the meeting, said.
The NIS said it cannot confirm the lawmakers’ comments. It typically neither confirms nor denies the contents of its private briefings provided at parliament. The NIS has a spotty record in confirming developments in North Korea, one of the world’s most secretive nations.
Some analysts said the girl's appearance at a missile test site showed that Mr Kim was emboldened by his advancing nuclear arsenal, the backbone of his family’s rule.
Others speculate that if he continues to take her to major public events, that could suggest that he might consider her an early heir apparent.
A potential successor?
Analysts said it is far too early to tell whether the girl is a successor or simply a symbol used to assure citizens that nuclear weapons would protect children and be “monuments to be passed down to our descendants for generations,” as state media reported.
Chun Su-jin, the South Korean author of a book on North Korean women leaders, said the chance of North Korean elites welcoming Mr Kim's daughter as ruler is very small.
“It is not ready to welcome a leader of the other gender,” she said. "(Kim) is just staging a show that he is a loving father, not just a brutal dictator who shoots missiles.”
Others believe that despite North Korea’s deeply patriarchal society, gender may not disqualify a daughter or other woman from taking power.
Barring a sudden health problem that leads to his incapacitation or death, there is a fair amount of time before Mr Kim, believed to be nearly 40, needs to consider a successor, said Michael Madden, blogger and director of North Korea Leadership Watch.
“That gives ample time for North Korea's political culture to change and create the conditions for a female successor,” Mr Madden said.
Mr Kim has elevated several women around him, including his sister, Yo Jong, and Choe Son-hui, the country’s first woman foreign minister.
Does Kim Jong-un have any other children?
The daughter apparently is Mr Kim’s child who retired NBA star Dennis Rodman saw during his trip to Pyongyang in 2013.
After that Pyongyang visit, Rodman told the British newspaper The Guardian that he and Mr Kim had a “relaxing time by the sea” with the leader’s family and that he held Mr Kim’s baby daughter, named Ju Ae.
It was the first time North Korea officially confirmed her existence. North Korea’s state media did not disclose the age, name and other details of Mr Kim’s daughter last week.
South Korean media have speculated Mr Kim married Ms Ri in 2009 and that they have three children, who were born in 2010, 2013 and 2017, respectively. Some reports said Mr Kim’s first child is a son and the third one is a daughter.
Mr Kim, 38, is a third generation of his family to run North Korea since 1948. He inherited power in late 2011 upon the death of his father Kim Jong-il.
Mr Kim and his father were both first mentioned in state media dispatches after they became adults. Given that, the revealing of the daughter believed to be in her early teens came as a surprise to observers.
Agencies contributed to this story