North Korea is suspected to have found the heir to its supreme leader, Kim Jong-un: his daughter, Kim Ju-ae.
The South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS), a known spy agency that regularly reports on North Korea, acknowledged her as the likely heir to the country for the first time this year.
This would be the first time in history that North Korea was led by a woman.
The Kim dynasty has led North Korea since the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea began in 1948, after Korea’s split in 1945.
Kim Ju-ae, reportedly 10, is the only one of Kim Jong-un’s children to appear publicly. She was first seen with her father in November of 2022, and has been referred to as a “respected” and “most beloved” child.
‘Respected’ is a word often reserved for North Korea’s highest authorities, such as Kim Jong-un himself.
“Based on a comprehensive analysis of public activities and the level of respect for Kim Ju-ae since her initial public appearance, at present, she appears to be the most likely successor,” the NIS said.
“But we are keeping our eyes open for all possibilities because Kim Jong-un is still young, has no major health problems, and there are many variables.”
Rumours about Kim’s health have circulated several times, including in 2014, 2020 and 2021. However, South Korea has continued to report his good health.
South Korea’s unification minister Kim Yung-ho said that the “continuous emphasis” on Kim Ju-ae suggested the country was “hastening to showcase succession intentions amid difficult internal circumstances”.
Information about North Korea is notoriously sparse, due to high levels of secrecy preventing information from getting into and out of the country.
Kim Jong-un is married to “Comrade Ri Sol-ju”, according to state media. The NIS has reported that Kim has two other children, with his eldest child being a boy.
Kim Ju-ae’s name was revealed in 2013 by US basketballer Dennis Rodman, who claims to be Kim Jong-un’s friend and visited North Korea several times up until 2017.
But even the name of Kim’s daughter is up for debate, with the Korea Times reporting that her real name was Eun-ju, according to retired NIS official Choe Su-yong.
“I heard that Kim introduced his daughter to Rodman during his visit to North Korea, saying in Korean that ‘jeo-ae’ (that girl) is his daughter,” he said. “Rodman seemed to have misunderstood the Korean word ‘jeo-ae’ as her name”.
“Her name is known to be Ju-ae after US sports star Dennis Rodman revealed her name in the media,” said a representative for the South Korean Ministry of Unification. “There is no extra information that the Unification Ministry can share about her name”.
The NIS itself refers to Kim’s daughter as Kim Ju-ae.