With her Mount Paektu bloodline, there is nothing preventing Kim Ju-ae being the next leader

Kim Jong-un’s daughter observing a military drill. The image was revealed by the state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun on March 16, 2024.

The Korea Institute for National Unification, a government think tank in Seoul, has released a report saying that, considering the increased role of women within North Korea and the unique nature of the regime with its dynastic “Mount Paektu bloodline” (immediate family of Kim Il-sung), it is possible that the next supreme leader of North Korea could be a woman.

Specifically, the report, entitled “Household Life of North Korean Residents: Independence from the country and its national planning,” identifies Kim Jong-un’s daughter, Kim Ju-ae, as a potential successor. The research, led by senior researcher Park Young-ja, was published on March 4.

The report highlighted the most important condition for succession is the legitimacy of the Mount Paektu bloodline. 

It also noted the women in Kim Jong-un’s inner circle. His sister Kim Yo-jong, Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son-hui, Central Committee member and former singer Hyon Song-wol, and First Lady Ri Sol-ju underscore his “female-friendly leadership style.”

“The logic that Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, or his daughter, Kim Ju-ae, cannot succeed him simply because they are women is inappropriate,” they said, claiming “While it is premature to assume that Kim Ju-ae is the fourth successor of succession, the assumption that male authoritarianism precludes a female successor needs to be reconsidered.”

“Given the current patriarchal state discourse in North Korea, the changing roles of family members, and the increasing role of women in the family, the emergence of a female as Kim Jong-un’s successor is possible,” the researchers concluded.

However, this argument contains contradictions.

Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, also had women around him. They included his sister Kim Kyong-hui, the Deputy Prime Minister Kim Pok-sin, senior party figure Jong Kyong-hui, and his wife Ko Yong-hui, among others. They ranked even higher than the women around Kim Jong-un.

And yet Kim Jong-il at other times demonstrated a strong aversion to women in leadership. For example, he significantly weakened the Korean Democratic Women’s League, the only women’s organization playing an important role in the country.

Thus, the logic that the women in Kim Jong-un’s inner circle imply a female-friendly leadership is flawed.

The more accurate point is that Kim Ju-ae could become the top leader despite being a woman because she carries Mount Paektu blood. In other words, whether Kim Jong-un is a female-friendly figure or not has no bearing on whether he passes power to his daughter.

In addition, a pitfall that scholars and researchers studying North Korea often fall into is relying solely on drawing conclusions from surface-level observations.

Since power in North Korea has been passed down from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un, and since they are all from Mount Paektu bloodline, it is assumed that the fourth successor will follow suit. While this conclusion is not incorrect, it misses the point. Succession is not guaranteed because of the three previous leaders.

The crucial point is that North Korea strictly follows its own established norms in determining succession.

Its “Ten Principles for the Establishment of a Monolithic Ideological System” clearly spell out the rules.

The Ten Principles function like a constitution in a democracy. This is often overlooked by analysts.

Established in 1974, the Ten Principles were updated in 2013 by Kim Jong-un. They clearly set out how the succession issue is to be resolved. 

Article 10, Section 1 states: “We must pass down the great achievement of the Juche revolution and the Songun revolution, pioneered by the great Comrade Kim Il-sung and led by Comrades Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, from generation to generation, inheriting and completing it to the end.”

Article 10, Section 2 unambiguously stipulates how the issue of succession is to be resolved: “The Party and the existence of the revolution shall be passed on forever through the Mount Paektu bloodline, and the revolutionary tradition of the Juche shall be constantly inherited and developed and its purity strictly maintained.”

The North Korean interpretation of this clause is that the rule of the Kim dynasty must be perpetual. 

Furthermore, the tradition of appointing members of the Kim dynasty as successors (the revolutionary tradition of Juche) must be inherited and only members of the Kim dynasty must be appointed as successors in the future (strict adherence to purity). In other words, North Korea’s successor can only be a member of the Kim dynasty, and it doesn’t matter whether he is the youngest son or a woman.

The point here is to emphasize that it is not secondary factors such as North Korea’s male authoritarianism that influences the decision of the fourth generation successor in North Korea, but the principles of succession as set out in the Ten Principles.

In this sense, despite being a woman, Kim Ju-ae faces no obstacle becoming the fourth leader.

Kim Dong-sik

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