Is the next leader being prepared?

Recent image of Kim Ju-ae and Kim Jong-un talking at the building completion ceremony in Pyongyang. Her outfit with see-through sleeves became controversial (Image / KCNA)

In the eighteen months since Kim Jong-un’s daughter, Ju-ae, first appeared in public, her deification as the next leader seems to be underway.

One indication is that, while she has been seen by everyone, basic information that would allow people to talk about her is being kept secret. 

“We don’t know her name for sure,” said a resident contacted in Hyesan in Yanggang Province. “Nor has her age been publicly disclosed. But then we don’t know exactly when her father was born. We just take a break on the day presumed to be his birthday.”

Asked what she thought of Kim’s daughter, another resident said, “Does it matter what we think? Since she’s his daughter, he will do as he wishes.”

She said some people are puzzled that a woman, not a man, is being positioned as the next leader, adding, “But no one dares to express this. Even a slight misstep could mean death.”

Such potential danger encourages indifference. “Once the state presents Kim Ju-ae, it’s only a matter of time before she becomes the next supreme leader,” said a person in Musan, Yanggang Province. “We’re too busy trying to survive to think about her.” 

Such testimonies indicate that North Koreans are aware that, regardless of who becomes the next leader, their lives won’t change. Their indifference suggests that the groundwork for succession has already been laid.

If this analysis is accurate, it shows that, in essence, the question of whether North Korea’s patriarchal society would accept a woman as the next leader, a question long posed by the international community, has already been answered.

For the people, it makes no difference whether the leader is male, female, young, or old. They have internalized over three generations the conviction that rebellion against the dictator leads to death. Obedience runs through their veins.

If she succeeds her father, Kim Ju-ae would be the fourth-generation ruler.

She revealed her face to the world during the test launch of the Hwasong-17 on November 18, 2022. Born on February 19, 2013, she was nine at the time.

Her father’s decision to bring her there instead of taking her to an amusement park or on a family trip reminded people of his nature as a dictator.

He even took photos with her against the backdrop of a Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL).

From this point on, Kim has made every effort to imprint his daughter on the people’s minds. He took her to military facilities and institutions, as well as to state events, making senior Party and state officials show her respect due to the supreme leader.

During a visit to the Naval Command on August 27, 2023, he had the elderly naval commander, Kim Myong-sik, not only salute her but also report to her.

Kim Myong-sik’s age has not been disclosed, but based on his appearance in videos and photos, he seems old enough to be Kim Ju-ae’s grandfather.

On November 30, 2023, which was Air Force Day, Kim Ju-ae visited the Air Force Command sporting a leather coat and sunglasses, striking poses in the foreground and with her father in the background, seemingly intent on asserting to the world that she was poised to become the next dictator.

On March 15 this year, Kim Ju-ae inspected special forces with her father, further underscoring her future role.

Kim Ju-ae’s most recent appearance in North Korean state media was at the dedication ceremony for a street in Pyongyang in mid-May. The contrast between the enthusiastic applause of senior officials cheering Kim Jong-un, their hands raised high, and Kim Ju-ae’s casual clapping sent the message of her status to the whole country.

On that day, she did her hair in a style and wore clothes that are considered a violation of student regulations. 

But for the next dictator, anything is okay, even if she is only a child.

Zane Han

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