November 18th saw Kim Jong-un set loose yet another InterContinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) test. Yet unlike other recent tests, Kim was there to watch the launch, and this time it was a family affair, with a huge surprise.
Joining Kim was his wife Ri Sol-ju and their daughter. This young lady is nearly as tall as her father already, and has not been previously photographed, or even mentioned by the state-run media. Per South Korea, intel Ri and Kim were wed back in 2009, and have three children, with the oldest being 12. Following a “diplomatic mission” to North Korea in 2013, former NBA star Dennis Rodman confirmed the existence of one child named “Ju-ae.”
The North Korean news agency KCNA, as well as the state newspaper Rodong Sinmum, published photos on the 19th of Kim and a preteen girl. He was clad in his usual black suit with a tan leather jacket, meanwhile, she sported a white jacket with red shoes. The ICBM to be launched was prominently featured in the background. This was her first time being shown, and her name and age were not made available.
With the Kim dynasty, things like clothing and backgrounds in state-released photos can give big clues to the next steps from the regime and are suspected as a method of delivering intel to North Korean spies and operatives across the globe. This sudden appearance of his daughter has sent analysts scrambling to figure out the motive, the message, and the timing behind such news with no fanfare.
The Washington Post gave some speculation that this was done with the intention of softening the global image of Kim and getting more people comfortable with the North Koreans. He wants people to see him not as a dictator, but as a leader, and a father to North Korea as well as his own children. Granted, things like Take Your Daughter to Work day aren’t usually done with ICBMs on the agenda.
Others believe that this is Kim’s first introduction of his line of succession, or possibly even an indication of their nuclear ambitions and the growth of their program towards becoming permanent. Previously, children have been shielded from the state-run media until they are formally listed as the successor to the throne. By bringing her out now, he could be signaling to the globe that the Kim line stands ready to continue.
South Korean lawmaker Tae Yong-ho is a defector from North Korea, and as such has a special insight into the regime. Speaking with the Washington Post, he said “By showing his daughter next to the ICBM, [Kim] is announcing to the world and his people that DPRK will never give up its nuclear program and it will be carried on throughout his lineage.” He added in the possibility of this being a response to international calls for China to control the regime and showing that the line of succession is there is a sign the country will continue its quest.
The ICBM itself is a Hwasong-17 as identified by KCNA. This missile represents tremendous growth in the regime’s efforts to become nuclear, and it has the potential to reach around much of the globe. This launch was met with fierce criticism by the US, Japan, and South Korea. State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “This action demonstrates the need for all countries to fully implement DPRK-related UN Security Council resolutions that are intended to prohibit the DPRK from acquiring the technologies and materials needed to carry out these destabilizing tests.”
No matter where Kim takes testing from here, his mixed message of bringing his daughter and wife along with him has many across the globe scratching their heads. One thing is certain though: he is pushing the line with these ICBMs and it won’t end well for him if he keeps pushing the edge.