As North Korea’s leader parades his daughter Ju-ae five times in a few weeks, the intriguing question… Is Kim grooming his little girl to be the next despot of the Hermit Kingdom?
Pyongyang offers little in the way of evening entertainment. So a night-time parade of the latest military hardware last week offered cheering North Koreans an occasion for high excitement.
Marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean army, the biggest ever array of intercontinental ballistic missiles trundled through the capital’s main square. Some, it was claimed, have the capacity to reach mainland America.
Yet even though it was showing off missiles that experts said signalled an alarming technological advance by the nuclear-armed pariah state, the arsenal was still upstaged by a well-fed little girl in a smart black coat.
Standing on a podium beside the country’s murderous millennial dictator Kim Jong-un, with ridiculous over-medalled generals clapping behind her, she cheered dutifully each time a rocket carrier rolled past.
She would do well to show her appreciation. Many now believe that this growing military power will one day be hers — as the next ‘Supreme Leader’ of North Korea. Her name is Ju-ae, she’s aged nine or ten — and she is thought to be Kim’s second child. Even though her parentage has never officially been confirmed, the family resemblance is obvious. She shares her father’s distinctive chubby cheeks.
The arsenal was still upstaged by a well-fed little girl in a smart black coat
Such is the intense secrecy and psychopathic paranoia that envelop the ruling family of the ‘Hermit Kingdom’, Ju-ae’s existence has until now been uncertain. For years the world knew Kim had a daughter called Ju-ae only because the eccentric U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman had said so.
Rodman, who has struck up a bizarre friendship with the basketball-loving Kim, revealed that he had met the girl as a baby during a visit to the communist state in 2013 — and had even been allowed to hold her.
Kim almost never appears in public with his children, so experts believe it’s highly significant that Ju-ae has now joined him at events no fewer than five times in the past three months. She was first in the spotlight last November, wearing a white puffer jacket, red ballet pumps and a ponytail, and clutching Kim’s hand as they visited a rocket-launching site. (Not for the Kims the usual family photo opportunities.)
Then, last week, just the day before the military parade, she was pictured with Dad at a military banquet where she had pride of place between the leader and his wife Ri Sol-ju, her mother. Again, little is known about who Ri really is. Some believe that her name may be a pseudonym — although it has often been claimed she is a former singer, a profession for which Kim has a penchant.
The following evening, Mrs Kim walked respectfully behind her husband and his favoured daughter along a red carpet to watch the parade.
It was an apparent act of deference, some believe, that signals the North Korean regime may be starting to build a personality cult around Ju-ae, as it did with the previous three Kims who have all ruled the country with a blood-soaked fist, enslaving and murdering any opponents, destroying North Korea’s economy and living high on the hog as their own benighted subjects have scraped out a miserable existence.
And while North Korea state media has never even confirmed Ju-ae’s name, the changing adjectives it has applied to her — words which hold immense significance in North Korea’s bizarre hierarchy — are being cited as further evidence that she has been chosen to succeed her father.
Only a few weeks ago, it was ‘beloved daughter’ — but just days ago that was upgraded to ‘respected daughter’, an adjective normally reserved for Supreme Leaders and their spouses.
Then, last week, just the day before the military parade, she was pictured with Dad at a military banquet
Despite the regime’s communist pretensions, in Pyongyang, power runs through one family. North Koreans have been brainwashed since the days of the first president, Kim Il-sung, into believing that the Kims’ bloodline is ‘sacred’ and only their omnipotent dynasty can lead the country.
The Kims claim to have what they call the ‘Mount Paektu bloodline’, linked to a mountain in the north of the country where Dangun, the spiritual founder of Korea — offspring of a god and a bear — was born. North Koreans have been taught for decades to believe that the Kims have supernatural powers — and it was only in 2020 that Kim Jong-un authorised an official newspaper to break it to credulous readers that he couldn’t, in fact, bend space and time.
If Ju-ae has indeed been nominated to become the third descendant of Kim Il-sung to lord it over North Korea (and if the repugnant regime survives that long), then her appearance at military events is vital. It will confirm to the country’s vast armed forces that she will be a worthy successor to her sabre-rattling father.
The nuclear-armed tyrant spends a far greater proportion of his country’s budget on defence than any other country, even as many of his wretched people face malnutrition and even starvation.
Kim himself may be chronically obese, a lover of rich cheese and a chainsmoker, but he’s still only 39 — which may make succession planning seem a little premature.
North Korean experts suggest, however, that he is trying to prevent a repetition of the chaos of his own coming to power. Although at the age of eight he was privately endorsed as heir and given a general’s uniform (military top brass had to start bowing to him), his status as the next Supreme Leader wasn’t publicly confirmed until a year before his father died in 2011. And, consequently, he had to move fast and ruthlessly to consolidate his power.
This is further evidence that she has been chosen to succeed her father
Ju-ae is believed to have an older brother as well as a younger sister — born respectively in 2010 and 2017. Given her father’s own two older brothers were passed over after being thought insufficiently brutal, it would hardly be unprecedented for it to happen again now.
North Korea’s state agency offers a clue why that may have happened, having reported repeatedly that Ju-ae is the leader’s ‘most beloved’ child as well as the ‘precious’ child he cares most for.
In the meantime, like the rest of Kim’s family — that is, at least the ones he hasn’t executed in various sadistic ways — Ju-ae is understood to be living a life of luxury and privilege that is inconceivable to almost anyone, not just North Koreans.
Analysts say she and her siblings live mostly in a vast private waterfront compound in the coastal city of Wonsan on the Sea of Japan.
Former basketball star Dennis Rodman, who went there in 2013 as Kim’s ‘friend for life’, described it as ‘like Hawaii or Ibiza, only he’s the only one who lives there’.
The estate, which is protected by intense security, has swimming pools with giant waterslides, tennis courts, nine large guest houses, a recreation centre, theatre, basketball court, private port, sports stadium and shooting range — all grouped around a vast villa that Kim Jong-un built when he came to power. The beaches are groomed to perfection and there is a covered berth to house a large yacht as well as a ‘dinner boat’.
A nearby private airstrip was converted into a horse-riding track in 2019 when riding (on sufficiently strong horses) became Kim’s newest passion. Next to the track is the private ‘Leadership Railway Station’, where Ju-ae and her family have exclusive use of a luxuriously appointed 250-metre train.
From here they can travel to at least another 15 mansions owned by Kim around his country, largely using an extensive underground network of tunnels and railway lines that allow them to evade foreign intelligence satellites.
Running to more than 20 carriages, the train boasts a lounge lined with coral-pink leather sofas and satellite TV, and a dining car where the family can order whatever food and drink they like from winsome female ‘conductors’.
Unlike his father, who preferred to remain mysterious to everyone including his own children, Jong-un — who spends a lot of his time in Wonsan — is understood to see a fair amount of his offspring.
Dennis Rodman — whose father Philander Rodman had at least 29 children — even described the dictator as a ‘good dad’. Of course, the Kim children also have an army of nannies, teachers and servants at their beck and call.
Whatever his merits as a doting father, Kim is alleged by some to have followed his own dad’s debauched example by reassembling a harem of teenage girls, his ‘Pleasure Brigade’.
The ‘tall and beautiful’ girls are reportedly first medically checked to ensure they’re virgins before being presented to the obese premier for his personal pleasure.
Analysts argue that Kim’s security paranoia will preclude his children, including Ju-ae, following in his footsteps and being educated abroad.
Kim himself attended school in Switzerland, masquerading as the child of embassy staff and was remembered as a quiet but temperamental boy who loved James Bond films and U.S. basketball.
Not all Pyongyang analysts believe the events of the past few days necessarily prove that Ju-ae is his intended successor.
Sceptics say the North Korean Old Guard will never tolerate being ruled by a woman.
Some believe it’s all a PR stunt, that Ju-ae has been brought into the frame simply to drive home various messages — that Kim is a loving father, that North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme will protect its future generations and that it is not going away when he is gone.
And besides, family ties are no guarantee of security among the Kims — quite the opposite. Young Ju-ae’s homicidal father had his own uncle blasted to death by anti-aircraft guns and, it’s thought, his half-brother fatally poisoned with a nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur airport.
In the trigger-happy, terrifyingly capricious world of Kim Jong-un, nobody and nothing is safe.
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