Speculation About Kim Ju Ae’s Succession in North Korea Is Premature and Unsubstantiated

Screenshot of KCTV footage showing Kim Jong Un and his daughter, Kim Ju Ae, attending a military parade

Recently, Kim Jong Un’s daughter, Kim Ju Ae, has received a lot of international media attention, and on January 4, 2024, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) determined that she is Kim Jong Un’s “most likely successor.”  

Speculation about the third succession within North Korea’s ruling family – fueled by hype and arbitrary interpretations – has been treated as if it were an established fact by both South Korean and international media.

VIDEO CAPTION: On February 8, 2023, in Pyongyang, Kim Ju Ae holds hands with her father, Kim Jong Un, on the red carpet during a parade commemorating the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People’s Army. Footage via KCTV.

However, North Koreans interviewed for this article are skeptical.

A North Korean Trade Ministry official who has been involved with the Workers’ Party’s special agency for earning foreign currency for more than 30 years and is familiar with the political dynamics of the country told NK Insider that predictions of Kim Ju Ae’s succession are hasty and unsubstantiated.

Furthermore, in an interview with a North Korean Foreign Ministry official in China surnamed Lee on January 10, 2024, Lee rejected the prediction of Kim Ju Ae’s succession, dismissing it as an outside perspective that is out of touch with North Korea’s system of power and public sentiment. 

Lee argued that even if Kim Jong Un had no sons, if he nominated Kim Ju Ae to succeed him, the tradition of succession through the Paektu bloodline would vanish because North Korea’s dynastic hereditary succession is strictly son-centered.

In North Korea, daughters are not commonly considered to belong to their original families once they’re married, and the mother’s side of the family is excluded from the family relation documentation section for cadre appointments. 

Therefore, stressing a daughter-centered hereditary succession could undermine the foundation of North Korea’s patriarchal system and leadership structure.

Family members of North Korean defectors living in North Hamgyong Province, Ryanggang Province, and North Pyongan Province in North Korea also reacted skeptically to the idea of Kim Ju Ae’s potential succession in phone conversations on this topic. 

First, they pointed out that North Korean officials and residents do not even know Kim Ju Ae’s name yet, so it’s far too early to speculate about her potential succession. 

Compared to the history of Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un’s succession schemes, wherein North Korea’s propaganda machine trumpeted their supposed achievements, North Korean media simply refers to Kim Ju Ae as a “beloved child,” so she should just be considered a child of the supreme leader rather than a “likely successor.” 

As a minor with a lack of leadership and achievements, she cannot be nominated as the successor simply because she is the child of the supreme leader. 

North Korean defectors also believe that Kim Jong Un and his daughter are repeatedly seen together in public and photographed by the North Korean media to convey the soft image of a loving father to the North Korean people.

This portrayal of the “loving father” helps Kim Jong Un to shed his image as a nuclear addict, and reinforces Kim Jong Un’s claim that he needs nuclear weapons to protect innocent North Koreans from a supposedly threatening enemy.

Ultimately, based on the nature and traditions of North Korea’s dynastic successions and Kim Ju Ae’s lack of qualifications, we can reasonably conclude that speculation about Kim Ju Ae’s succession is premature and unfounded. 

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