You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Kim Jong Un may be prepping his daughter as his successor because he wants a woman in charge to modernize North Korea's image, experts say

Business Insider logo Business Insider 2/24/2023 tporter@businessinsider.com (Tom Porter)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter Kim Ju Ae attend a military parade at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea on February 8, 2023. North Korea's Korean Central News Agency © North Korea's Korean Central News Agency North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter Kim Ju Ae attend a military parade at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea on February 8, 2023. North Korea's Korean Central News Agency
  • North Korea's Kim Jong Un has given prominent roles to women.
  • He may be preparing his daughter as his heir to help modernize North Korea's image, analysts say. 
  • But it will likely have little impact on the lives of ordinary North Korean women.

Kim Jong Un has been increasingly keen to show his daughter off to the world. 

His second-born has taken centre stage in recent North Korean propaganda images. Earlier this month, she was pictured reviewing a military parade of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Last week, photographs were released of her attending a state banquet alongside generals bedecked with medals. She was also recently pictured applauding players at a soccer match on a national holiday. 

Little is known about Kim Ju Ae, who is believed to be 10 or 11-years-old.

However, her increasing prominence in North Korean propaganda is fuelling speculation that Kim Jong Un could be preparing to do something unprecedented in the history of the repressive state — appoint a female as his successor. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong attend a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool via Reuters © Korea Summit Press Pool via Reuters North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong attend a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool via Reuters

Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju are believed to have three children, including an eldest son. Kim Ju Ae is the only one of his children who has appeared in public.

"It would not be out of question for him to decide he wants his daughter to be next in line because he has shown his willingness to put women in positions of power," Ramon Pacecho Pardo, a professor of international relations at King's College London, told Insider. 

Already, Kim has appointed women to some of the most prominent roles in his regime. His sister, Kim Yo Jong, has represented North Korea on the world stage at events such as the Winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018. Choe Sun Hui, the country's foreign minister, is the first woman to serve in the role. Meanwhile, singer Hyon Song Wol has played an important role in regime propaganda. 

"Kim Jong Un is a feminist — at least if judged by the incredibly low standards of North Korea," Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert recently wrote for NK News. 

Pacecho Pardo said Kim views himself as a modernizer. The dictator pledged changes to the economy and weapons programs when he took power in 2011. Placing women in important roles in his regime appears to fit with his reformist image, Pacecho Pardo said. 

"The prominent role that women are paying in his leadership I don't think it is out of character, he said.

He appears keen, said Pacecho Pardo, to distinguish himself from his father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung, whose wives and mistresses were rarely seen in public and where women were excluded from top government roles. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un talks with his daughter Kim Ju Ae at a banquet in Pyongyang, North Korea February 7, 2023. KCNA via Reuters © KCNA via Reuters North Korean leader Kim Jong Un talks with his daughter Kim Ju Ae at a banquet in Pyongyang, North Korea February 7, 2023. KCNA via Reuters A female leader won't mean change for the women of North Korea

Under North Korea's founding socialist principles, women have the same rights as men, and they have long been celebrated in regime propaganda for their role as revolutionaries and soldiers.

However reality has lagged well behind the image, and for most of the country's history women were expected to focus on being wives and mothers, and excluded from many jobs and industries.

Despite the prominent roles women from the social elite have taken in Kim Jong Un's regime, most ordinary women in North Korea continue to face deeply entrenched sexism, said Lina Joon, a senior Korea researcher at Human Rights Watch. 

"Discrimination against women and girls in North Korea is widespread and is accepted as a natural part of everyday life in North Korea," said Joon. 

A police woman conducts the traffic on April 2, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Feng Li/Getty Images © Feng Li/Getty Images A police woman conducts the traffic on April 2, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Feng Li/Getty Images

Even in fields where there have been recent attempts to recruit more women, such as the police, they mostly remained restricted to jobs such as secretarial work or cooking, said Joon. 

The COVID-19 pandemic had resulted in the North Korean government closing the border, shutting down one of the most important economic opportunities available to women — running markets where goods from China were bartered or sold. 

While men are expected to work in officially sanctioned jobs with wage caps, women could earn much more on the markets and in some cases had become the "main breadwinners" for their families, said Joon. But that opportunity has largely gone. 

North Korea is a stratified society, where women in the social elite with a powerful male relative have opportunities unavailable to most women, she said. 

"A woman who has powerful men nearby that are protecting them have more much more access to more opportunities and have more influence," said Joon. 

Darcie Draudt, a Korea analyst, in an essay on 38North, said that the prominent role taken by women in the North Korean elite would likely have little broader impact, and that in many authoritarian systems prominent women defend the status quo. 

"The increased participation of North Korean women in elite politics does not necessarily indicate change to the broader social or political systems," she wrote. 

But for Joon, even deeply entrenched hostility to the idea of having a woman as the head of state would be unlikely to stand in the way of Kim Ju Ae if she is named as successor. 

"North Korea is extremely repressive country where the government can easily control how people will react to changes within their state and the expectations of the population. So it's something that could be quite easily be stage managed by by the regime," she remarked. 

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Business Insider

Business Insider
Business Insider
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon