North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is believed to have rolled out a new fast-strike intercontinental ballistic missile at a military parade, an event that he also used to elevate the profile of a daughter who he could be grooming for a leadership position.
Kim, his wife Ri Sol Ju and their “beloved daughter” attended the parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army held in central Pyongyang on Wednesday night, the official Korean Central News Agency said.
Weaponry including intercontinental ballistic missiles was on display, it said, adding “ICBMs appeared in the square heated by the cheers the spectators.”
A broadcast of the event may come Thursday, providing weapons experts an opportunity to study the missiles rolled through the streets. Photos provided by state media indicated a new solid-fuel ICBM may have been displayed.
That type of missile would be easier to move and quicker to fire than the state’s current arsenal of liquid-fuel ICBMs, giving the US less time to shoot one down. North Korea in recent months tested new solid-fuel engines, which could be used in missiles designed to strike US military bases in Japan and Guam, as well as an ICBM to hit the American mainland.
A military parade is one of the biggest public events a North Korean leader can hold. Close attention will be paid to Kim’s daughter, thought to be about 10 years old and one of three children that South Korea’s spy agency believes he had with Ri since they married in 2009.
Her actual name isn’t known, but she’s referred to as Kim Ju Ae by experts who study the reclusive nation. State media now calls her the “respected daughter,” and she’s received prominent attention since she made her debut in November, when her father brought her to the launch of a new ICBM.
The appearances and propaganda mentions are stoking speculation she’s being groomed for a leadership role. In 2010, Kim Jong Un, then 26, made his public debut at a military parade with his father Kim Jong Il.
His attendance that day, plus the fact he was made a four-star general and given prominent positions in the ruling party a few weeks earlier, were signs he was the heir apparent.
It is highly unlikely Kim Jong Un would install his elementary school-age daughter in a government role now, a move that would all but assure her of official status. Given Kim’s relatively young age of 39, he could be in power for decades. Still, he’s overweight and a heavy smoker who has battled health problems, so succession is also a subject of concern.
Rachel Minyoung Lee, regional issues manager at the Vienna-based Open Nuclear Network, said the ways state media has referred to Ju Ae over time are noteworthy, but it’s too early to read anything about succession into it.
“It would seem, therefore, that the main purpose of Kim Ju Ae’s public appearances is to reinforce the importance of continued weapons development and production for the security of future generations,” said Lee, who worked as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency’s Open Source Enterprise for almost two decades.
Despite all the mystery about North Korea, the events with the daughter signaled to the nation’s public and the outside world that the Kim regime is here to stay.
It also indicated the ruling family won’t be bargaining away a nuclear arsenal that guarantees its continued survival anytime soon.
“At the very least, we know that Kim recognizes the utility of showcasing his young daughter in garnering interest and attention from the international community,” said Soo Kim, a former CIA Korea analyst who is now a policy practice area lead at US-based management consulting firm LMI.
Since taking power a decade ago, Kim Jong Un has defied predictions that his regime would falter. Instead, he boasts an increasingly diverse stockpile of weapons designed to target the US, Japan and South Korea.
North Korea’s ability to deliver a nuclear strike has grown to the point there are calls to declare Pyongyang a nuclear weapons state. That change would lead to a revamp of a decades-old US policy aimed at preventing that from happening, while seeking the complete, verifiable and irreversible end of its atomic arsenal.
Ju Ae’s prominence is only the latest example of Kim’s willingness to share the spotlight with prominent women. Besides frequent appearances with his wife, he has made his sister, Kim Yo Jong, the face of the regime’s dealings with the US and South Korea. He also recently made Choe Son Hui the country’s first female foreign minister.
Duyeon Kim, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Seoul, said the new role given to the leader’s daughter may be part of a powerplay to keep the leader’s sister in check.
“Kim Yo Jong had been featured publicly for a while but seems to have faded in the background most recently with his daughter’s public debut,” she said. (Bloomberg)
Image credits: Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP