Kim Jong Un’s 10-year-old daughter may be next in line to lead North Korea

Speculation is mounting that Kim Jong Un’s daughter Kim Ju Ae could be next in line to lead North Korea.

The girl, who is thought to be between 10 and 12 years old, has been referred to as a “great person of guidance” by state-run media a term which is exclusively used for top leaders and their successors.

She also oversees military drills with her father in a sign that she is being prepared for a leadership role.

Here we take a look at what is known about Kim Ju Ae.

Who is she?

First introduced to the world in 2022, when she accompanied her father to the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, analysts have long said Ju Ae is the equivalent of a North Korean “princess”.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter Ju Ae attending a paramilitary parade at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang in 2023. KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Images

Pyongyang’s state media have never identified her by name, but South Korean intelligence says she’s Ju Ae, the daughter of Kim and his wife, former star singer and first lady Ri Sol Ju, who they believe married in 2009.

She was once thought to be Kim’s second child, but last year Seoul said it was “unable to confirm for sure” that a once-suspected older son actually existed.

It is unclear exactly how old she is. Former NBA star Dennis Rodman visited the North in 2013 and claimed he’d met a baby daughter of Kim’s called Ju Ae.

Kim Jong Un and his daughter Ju Ae inspecting the test-fire of the new Hwasongpho-18 ICBM at an undisclosed location in North Korea. KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Images

And her mother?

Kim’s wife, former star singer Ri Sol Ju, first appeared in state media 2012 and has been regarded as one of the most high-profile women in the isolated, deeply patriarchal nation.

She has accompanied her husband on numerous “field guidance trips” and to high-profile summits with foreign leaders, often dressing in luxury brands and once sporting a Christian Dior handbag.

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Her public presence, and official title of First Lady, which Kim gave her in 2018, was a departure from precedent in the North, where the wives of the previous two leaders — Kim’s father and grandfather — rarely made public appearances, with details about their lives mostly kept secret.

In recent years, Ri is still seen accompanying her husband and daughter, although Kim has recently been choosing to bring Ju Ae, rather than his wife, as his partner to key events.

How is she treated?

North Korean adults have been shown bowing deeply before her in state media. At a military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the country’s founding, Marshal Pak Jong Chon, one of the most powerful military officials in the North, was seen kneeling by Ju Ae.

This suggests she is “almost definitely” being groomed as the next leader of the nuclear-armed country, Ahn Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies, told AFP.

Kim Jong Un (L) and his daughter Ju Ae (C) observing an air festival during a visit with the 1st Air Force Division Flying Regiment of the Korean People’s Army to commemorate Air Day, at an unknown location. KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Images

Kim Jong Un (L) inspecting the newly built Gwangcheon Poultry Factory with his daughter Ju Ae (C) in North Hwanghae Province. KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Images

“Pak represents the North Korean military, and he’s basically publicly pledged his allegiance to Ju Ae,” he said.

What’s her style?

Kim Jong Un is known for his love of leather jackets, and is often photographed wearing one at official engagements, and Ju Ae has followed his sartorial lead.

In November, the pair were photographed wearing similar-looking leather jackets, both wearing sunglasses.

Kim Jong Un himself adopted the hairstyle, dress, mannerisms, public speaking style and even handwriting of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the founder of the North.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a banquet with his daughter Ju Ae to mark the 75th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), in North Korea. KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Images

Analysts say this is a way to emphasize the so-called Paektu bloodline — a Northern term for the ruling Kim family, who have led the nuclear-armed country since its foundation.

No woman has run the country before, but Ju Ae’s “belonging to the sacred Paektu bloodline of the Kim clan and the will of the current leader, if he is to make her his successor, will outweigh her gender,” Vladimir Tikhonov, professor of Korean Studies at the University of Oslo, said.

Tough life?

Ju Ae, who has been seen wearing what appeared to be a Dior coat, undoubtedly enjoys a life of luxury, but “she is being used for adults’ ideological and political purposes and has to do public things for which she is too young,” Tikhonov said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter Ju Ae visiting the Ministry of National Defence in Pyongyang on the 76th founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Army. KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Images

Videos released by state media have shown a young girl who can at times appear tired or seem to fidget at official events.

“At the end of the day, she’s still a child,” Soo Kim, a former CIA analyst and principal technical advisor at LMI Consulting, said.

“The highly public, highly staged role is not something most children at her age would be suited for naturally.”

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