December 04, 2023 11:46
South Korea's National Intelligence Service has been fretting over the succession in North Korea and now believes leader Kim Jong-un's 10-year-old daughter Ju-ae is being set up as the next leader.
National security adviser Cho Tae-yong said Sunday that he believes Kim Ju-ae to be the heir apparent. When Ju-ae first appeared in public last year, officials here were highly skeptical that she could be the heir to the North Korean throne, but the propaganda machine has pulled out all the stops to build the little girl her own personality cult.
"Until recently we thought, 'How can Kim Ju-ae be the successor?,' but now we are at the stage of considering, 'Does it seem likely that Kim Ju-ae will be the successor?'" Cho told KBS.
A photo published in the North's official Rodong Sinmun daily last week shows Kim and Ju-ae wearing matching sunglasses and leather coats as she stands in front of him. Ju-ae has appeared in many photos in the state media and always appeared either next to or behind her father, but in this picture she is the main character.
It is unprecedented in the status-obsessed North to publish a photo with Kim Jong-un in the background.
Ju-ae first appeared in the public eye at the launch site of an intercontinental ballistic missile on Nov. 18 last year, where she was pictured holding her father's hand, and since then she has been gradually built up in the state, reviewing troops with her father or sitting on the podium during official events.
She has even graduated to high-heeled shows and is wearing her hair like her mother, Ri Sol-ju. State media changed the way they refer to her from "beloved" child to "respected" child. After the North's successful launch of a spy satellite last week she was apostrophized as "Morning Star General."
People Power Party lawmaker Thae Yong-ho, an ex-North Korean diplomat who defected to South Korea in 2016, said, "If the creation of a personality cult around Kim Jong-un's daughter is true, it signifies the completion of internal procedures within the top echelons of the North Korean leadership to appoint her as the successor. Even by North Korean standards of common sense that seems to be going too far."
In other words the girl's designation suggests that Kim now feels confident he has won the various internal power struggles that dogged the early part of his rule, which resulted in brutal purges of the top ranks of the powerful military.
Thae warned that appointing a child as the successor at this stage could encourage speculation about Kim Jong-un's health.
A former South Korean intelligence official said, "Given the evidence of North Korea exposing Kim Ju-ae so far, it appears that Kim Jong-un and Ri Sol-ju have no son. Launching Ju-ae at this young age could be a strategy to prolong the preparation period and to desensitize people to the idea of having a female in charge."
But other North Korea watchers refuse to believe it. A former NIS official said, "The continued emphasis on Kim Ju-ae's appearance in North Korean media reports doesn't necessarily imply anything beyond officials expressing admiration for Kim Jong-un, who loves his daughter."
And Kim Heung-kwang of the defector organization North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity said, "In North Korea, the possibility of a female leader still seems unlikely, and considering Kim Jong-un's relatively young age, mentioning a successor seems implausible. Ju-ae is merely a tool of political image-making for Kim Jong-un."
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