January 4, 2024
SEOUL – South Korea’s spy agency sees North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s only publicly known child Ju-ae as his “most likely successor,” according to its latest analysis.
According to a National Intelligence Service report seen by The Korea Herald, the spy service in Seoul believes Ju-ae is most likely to succeed her father as North Korea’s leader, based on her public appearances and reception.
The NIS said in the analysis that besides Ju-ae, who was born in 2013, Kim has another child whose age or sex is unknown.
“Based on a comprehensive analysis of her public activities and the level of respect and reception she has received since her first appearance, she is most likely to be successor so far,” it said.
The NIS added that Kim is “still young and without significant health issues,” and it was “looking out for all possibilities.” “There are a lot of variables at play,” it said.
These findings were submitted to Rep. Youn Kun-young’s office on Tuesday as the latest analysis to be made by the South Korean spy service on North Korea’s power succession.
This marks a departure from the spy service’s earlier stance that Ju-ae is probably not the next in line to power despite her high-profile presence in the public eye.
As recently as in September last year, the spy service told the Assembly that it does not deem her to be his heir presumptive, citing the repressive regime’s patriarchal tradition.
North Korean studies professor Park Won-gon of Ewha Womans University in Seoul noted the shift in assessment by South Korean government and intelligence officials in the past month.
He said that the analysis by the NIS, which is the primary collector of intelligence, was a significant addition to the recent comments by a senior official at the Ministry of Unification overseeing inter-Korean affairs.
Speaking to reporters in December, the official said that it was “highly probable” Ju-ae was the successor in a first such recognition from a South Korean government official.
“What’s important is that both the Unification Ministry and the NIS have begun to take Ju-ae more seriously as Kim Jong-un’s possible successor than when she made her first appearance in state media,” Park said.
Yang-uk, a senior researcher at the Asan Institute of Policy Studies in Seoul, said that parading around his daughter as successor so early on could be “a sign of anxiety” on Kim’s part.
“From the North Korean regime’s perspective, this is not a good sign,” he said, adding he thinks it is “still premature to conclude Ju-ae as Pyongyang’s next leader at this time.”
The NIS officially confirmed Kim Jong-un as heir apparent to his father, Kim Jong-il, in June 2009. He succeeded two years after that when his father died of a heart attack in late 2011.