Photo of North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, daughter spurs speculation

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The first public appearance of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s daughter in state media photos of its latest ballistic missile test has North Korea watchers scrambling for a bigger meaning.

Was this a hint about Kim’s succession plans even though the girl is not yet a teenager? And given the strange setting, who was the target audience for these images?

By specifying the connections issued by North Korea, one of the world’s most closed countries, is an educated guessing game at best. His propaganda can carry several messages at once and can be a kind of Rorschach test for different opinions. But many experts agree that releasing the photo was an intriguing move by Kim, revealing how he may want to be seen as a leader and father both domestically and in the international community.

“This is a very unusual case. You can’t see through one lens. I think Kim has considered both external and internal consequences,” said Kwak Gil-seop, former director of the North Korean regime’s research bureau at the government-run National Security Strategy Institute. “It was the result of very thoughtful and complex planning. I think this is the best Kim Jong Un event so far.

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Pictures of Kim and his daughter released on Saturday showed Pyongyang announcing the successful launch of its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile to date. The Hwasong-17 is designed to carry multiple nuclear warheads and can reach the east coast of the United States.

State media said Kim brought his “beloved” daughter, whose name has not been released, along with his wife Ri Sol Ju, who has appeared in earlier pictures of missile tests. Observers say they believe the girl is Kim Ju Ae, whose name was first revealed in 2013 when retired NBA star Dennis Rodman described holding her as a baby during a visit to North Korea that year.

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South Korean intelligence officials say Kim Jong Un has two other children. Older boy born around 2010 Even less is known about another child born around 2017.

Tae Yong-ho, a South Korean lawmaker who was North Korea’s top diplomat before stepping down, said he believed Kim wanted to emphasize his family roots and use them to underpin North Korea’s nuclear development, a signal that the weapons program. , the crux of the regime’s survival strategy, is here to stay.

“Showing his daughter next to an ICBM, [Kim] announces to the world and his people that the DPRK will never give up its nuclear program and it will continue throughout his lineage,” Tae said, using North Korea’s official acronym. “And this message also means that the world cannot achieve the denuclearization of the DPRK by doing” China.

A North Korean statement hinted at the meaning of the photos a day after they were released. In a story published by state media outlet Rodong Sinmun, an unnamed North Korean woman described how she and her children watched the event on television. She praised his success, saying that because of the country’s arms, her children would “never know war and live under a clear blue sky.”

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Regardless of the motivation, the daughter’s appearance broke the norms. Kim is the third generation of his family to lead North Korea, and the children of Kim leaders have not historically appeared this way before being appointed successor, noted North Korean media propaganda expert Rachel Minyoung Lee.

This is not the first time that Kim has deviated from the conventions established by his father and grandfather. For example, he has been more outspoken about his country’s food crisis and other issues than his predecessors.

And unlike his father, who did not reveal his wife and only appeared in public with his sister later, Ri was featured in state media six months after Kim came to power, while his sister, a top aide, is a regular public figure.

“The unprecedented move of presenting the current leader’s child to the public should be understood in the broader context of North Korea’s evolving propaganda strategy under Kim Jong Un,” Lee said. “North Korea has made efforts over the past decade to make its propaganda more persuasive and relatable, which has sometimes included greater transparency” and an emphasis on a more human side to Kim.

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“Ju Ae was probably meant to represent future generations, and there is no stronger expression of your determination than your child,” Lee said.

According to Kwak, an expert on the North Korean regime, there may be other motives. By shifting the conversation to his role as family leader, he could try to remind political elites and local audiences of his Baekdu bloodline. as a descendant of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

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“Apart from military issues and diplomatic complications [of an ICBM test], he turned the world’s attention to himself as a father. He glossed over the issues of provocation and nuclear weapon development while promoting his image,” Kwak said.

The photos raised questions about possible plans to name Kim’s successor, even though he is only 38 years old. Experts say it would be premature to make any assumptions based on his daughter’s former appearance. The last two succession campaigns took years to expand through private meetings with political leaders.

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Still, it could be the start of a years-long process to build Ju Ae’s public persona and train her to become an established member of North Korea’s elite or even an influential regime official, said Michael Madden, who runs the website. North Korea Leadership Clock.

Kim built on the work of his predecessors developing the country’s nuclear weapons program, Madden said. Bringing his daughter to the Hwasong-17 launch could be a way to strengthen the family legacy, also connects her to him.

“It’s a way of saying, ‘I’m going to take my eldest daughter and guess who’s going to lead North Korea?’ We will continue to rule the Kim family here, so don’t make any plans,” Madden said.

He added that potential political rivals should take note. “Bringing her out like this, even if she doesn’t become the ultimate leader, is a way of saying, ‘This is going to continue and don’t even try to think about power challenges.’ “

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