Is this the face of North Korea’s future leader? Kim Jong Un shows off his daughter

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with his daughter at a military parade
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center left, attends a military parade in Pyongyang this week with his daughter, Kim Ju Ae, believed to be about 10, to mark the 75th anniversary of the national army.
(Korean Central News Agency / Korea News Service)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his young daughter took center stage at a huge military parade, fueling speculation that the girl is being groomed as a future leader as her father showed off his latest, largest nuclear missiles.

Wednesday night’s parade in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, featured the newest hardware in Kim’s growing nuclear arsenal, including what experts said was possibly a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile that he might test in the coming months.

The missile was one of about a dozen ICBMs Kim’s troops rolled out at the event — an unprecedented number that underscored how he continues to expand his military capabilities despite limited resources in the face of deepening tensions with his neighbors and the United States.


The parade was the fifth known public appearance by Kim’s daughter, Kim Ju Ae, his second-born child, who is believed to be around 10 years old. On Tuesday, Kim brought her to visit troops as he lauded the “irresistible might” of his nuclear-armed military.

State media have signaled a lofty role for Kim Ju Ae. She’s been called “respected” and “beloved,” and a photo released Wednesday showed her sitting in the seat of honor at a banquet, flanked by generals and her parents.

North Korean photos released Thursday showed Kim, wearing a black coat and fedora, attending the parade with his wife and daughter. From a balcony, Kim smiled and raised his hand as thousands of troops lined up in a brightly illuminated Kim Il Sung Square, which is named after his grandfather, the nation’s founder.

South Korea’s spy agency says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s disclosure of his daughter in recent public events was likely an attempt to show his people that one of his children would one day inherit his power.

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North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said all of the soldiers and spectators at the square cheered and chanted the name of their ruler, a “great brilliant commander” who is “beefing up the military muscle with his outstanding military strategic ideas.”

The parade marked the 75th founding anniversary of North Korea’s army and came after weeks of preparations involving huge numbers of troops and civilians mobilized to glorify Kim’s rule and his relentless push to cement his country’s status as a nuclear power.

State media photos showed transport and launcher trucks carrying about 10 of the country’s Hwasong-17 ICBMs, which demonstrated a range that would allow them to reach deep into the U.S. mainland during a flight test in November. Those missiles were followed by another large missile encased in a canister and transported on a nine-axle vehicle.


It wasn’t immediately clear whether the missile was a model or an actual rocket, but Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, said the missile was probably a version of a solid-fuel ICBM that North Korea has been trying to develop for years. He added that the unprecedented number of Hwasong-17s paraded in Wednesday’s event suggests progress in efforts to produce those weapons in larger numbers.

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State media reports didn’t immediately mention whether Kim Jong Un delivered a speech during the event. The parade came after Kim met with his top military brass Monday and ordered an expansion of combat exercises, as he continues to escalate an already provocative run of weapons demonstrations.

“This time, Kim Jong Un let North Korea’s expanding tactical and long-range missile forces speak for themselves,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

“The message Pyongyang wants to send internationally, demonstrating its capabilities to deter and coerce, will likely come in the form of solid-fuel missile tests and detonation of a miniaturized nuclear device,” he said, echoing U.S. and South Korean assessments that the North could be preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017.

The Korean Central News Agency confirmed that the parade featured a variety of nuclear-capable weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons targeting South Korea. The agency described the ICBMs as key in supporting the North’s stance of “nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out confrontation” against its enemies.

Lee Sung-jun, spokesperson of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a briefing that the South Korean and U.S. militaries were closely analyzing the North Korean photos and reports to evaluate the weaponry.

North Korea is coming off a record-breaking year in weapons testing; the dozens of missiles it fired in 2022 included potentially nuclear-capable systems designed to strike targets in South Korea and the U.S. mainland.

The intensified testing activity was punctuated by fiery statements and a new law threatening preemptive nuclear attacks against its neighbors and the U.S. in a broad range of scenarios.

Kim continued his nuclear push as 2023 dawned.

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In December, he supervised a test of a “high-thrust solid-fuel motor” for a new strategic weapon he said would be developed in the “shortest span of time,” which experts said probably referred to a solid-fuel ICBM. All the ICBMs the country has flight-tested since 2017 used liquid propellants. Solid fuel could allow shorter preparation time and more mobility on the ground.

Solid-fuel ICBMs were on a wish list Kim announced under a five-year arms development plan in 2021. It also included tactical nuclear weapons, hypersonic missiles, nuclear-powered submarines and spy satellites.

Analysts say Kim’s decision to bring his daughter to major publicized events tied to his military was meant to send a statement to the world that he has no intention to surrender his nuclear weapons, which he apparently sees as the strongest guarantee of his survival and the extension of his family’s dynastic rule.


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An official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity according to department rules during a background briefing, said Kim Ju Ae’s repeated appearances at significant events and her prominent exposure in state media were also aimed at strengthening domestic loyalty to the Kim family. The official said it was too early to determine whether she was being groomed as her father’s successor but added that “all possibilities are open.”

“We can only speculate at this point,” said Duyeon Kim, a senior analyst at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. Kim Jong Un is “obviously showing her off intentionally and, at a minimum, he seems to be trying to reiterate the importance, status and legitimacy of a direct Kim bloodline offspring. It’s too soon to assume that she will be his heir because the son has always succeeded the throne in North Korea.”