Kim Jong Un’s daughter made her second public appearance with her father in days, sparking speculation about the North Korean despot’s possible succession plans.
The 38-year-old Kim was rumored to be in grave health after reportedly undergoing a cardiovascular procedure in 2020. He has three children with wife Ri Sol Ju, a boy who was born in 2010 and two girls who were born in 2013 and 2017, according to South Korean media reports.
The middle child, Kim Ju Ae, has appeared in official photographs with her father during two recent public events, fueling speculation that he is considering her as his heir apparent.
Ju Ae, who is about 9 or 10 years old, was first pictured with her parents on Nov. 19 and walking hand-in-hand with Kim prior to the country's intercontinental ballistic missile launch.
On Sunday, the country’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) published pictures of her again, this time describing her as Kim’s "most beloved" or "precious" child, a more honorific title than "beloved daughter," which KCNA used to describe her just days earlier, the Associated Press reported.
"This is certainly striking. The photograph of Kim Ju Ae standing alongside her father while being celebrated by technicians and scientists involved in the latest ICBM launch would support the idea that this is the start of her being positioned as a potential successor," Ankit Panda, an expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the outlet.
"State media underscoring her father’s love for her further underscores this, I think. Finally, both of her initial public appearances have been in the context of strategic nuclear weapons — the crown jewels of North Korea’s national defense capabilities. That doesn’t strike me as coincidental," Panda said.
State media said Sunday Kim and his daughter took group photos with scientists, officials and others involved in what it called the test-launch of its Hwasong-17 ICBM.
KCNA did not name Kim's daughter, but retired NBA star Dennis Rodman revealed during a 2013 interview with The Guardian that he had held Kim's baby daughter named Ju Ae during his trip to the capital city of Pyongyang.