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South Korea says again that Kim Jong Un has 3 children, and the eldest is a son

People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast with an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and his daughter presumed to be named Ju Ae attending a military parade held in Pyongyang to mark the 75th founding anniversary of its armed forces, at a railway station in Seoul on Feb. 9, 2023.
JUNG YEON-JE
/
AFP via Getty Images
People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast with an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and his daughter presumed to be named Ju Ae attending a military parade held in Pyongyang to mark the 75th founding anniversary of its armed forces, at a railway station in Seoul on Feb. 9, 2023.

SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea's top intelligence agency on Tuesday confirmed – again – that North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un has three children and the eldest is a boy.

The National Intelligence Service previously made the assessment in 2017, saying the children were born in 2010, 2013, and 2017, respectively.

Questions about the dynastic ruler's children and possible succession scenario arose with the apparent second child's repeated appearances in public in recent months.

Daughter Ju Ae first appeared in North Korean state media last November. She attended a test launch of the Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile with her parents.

Since then, she has made six additional appearances in a span of three months. She attended a banquet with top defense officials, a military parade, a groundbreaking ceremony for a construction site, and a sports event. North Korea also made stamps with pictures of her and her father at the missile test site.

The frequent public display of Ju Ae is highly unusual for the clandestine country, where information about the leader's private life is strictly controlled and heavily guarded.

Ju Ae is the only child among the reported three whose name and face is known. Basketball player Dennis Rodman revealed her name in 2013 after his visit to North Korea.

State media has not published her name yet. But in its reports, Ju Ae is often pictured at the center, right beside the leader Kim. The media uses the respectful form of speech and expressions like "beloved" and "respected" child to address her.

That visual and linguistic treatment of the child, who hasn't even reached her teens, raised the possibility that she is being groomed to succeed her father as the country's fourth-generation leader.

Researcher Jeong Seong-jang of the think tank Sejong Institute says Ju Ae has indeed been chosen as successor. He wrote in a recently published commentary that North Korea is showing the level of reverence reserved for the top leader toward her, proving that her role goes beyond symbolizing the country's future generation and justifying its nuclear and missile development programs.

Some other experts and the South Korean government are more cautious, saying that North Korea would not risk exposing its future leader at such a young age and that she only serves to present Kim Jong Un as a loving father and to strengthen the myth of the Kim bloodline.

But a more crucial counterargument is that Ju Ae is a daughter. South Korea's Unification Ministry and the spy agency NIS both cited North Korea's patriarchal culture as a reason they are unsure about her status.

South Korean Unification Minister Kwon Young-se said in a radio interview last month that it would "change the story" if Kim Jong Un only had daughters, implying that a son is more likely to succeed.

And the NIS told the parliamentary intelligence committee on Tuesday that it continues to believe that Kim has a son based on intelligence, although it does not have "concrete evidence," according to lawmakers who attended the closed meeting.

The agency said it could not confirm the suspicion some raised that the son is physically or mentally unfit to succeed.

As for Ju Ae, the NIS said her purpose seems to be to justify hereditary succession to the North Korean people. The NIS also added that she is being homeschooled in the capital Pyongyang and enjoys horseback riding, swimming, and skiing.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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