This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
For the first time last week, North Koreans got a glimpse of Kim Jong Un’s daughter when newspapers splashed photos of the two holding hands as they watched the country’s latest missile test.
Pictures of the child – identified by South Korean intelligence as 9-year-old Kim Ju Ae, his second child – piqued far more public interest than any news about the successful launch of the Hwasong-17 missile, sources told Radio Free Asia’s Korean service.
Reactions varied widely, the sources said, amid speculation over Kim’s motives for revealing the daughter at this particular time.
Some saw a positive break with the secrecy surrounding the Kim dynasty children that enhanced their humanity, a resident of the northern province of Ryanggang told RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity for security reasons. Kim’s Jong Un was almost unknown to his people during the rule of his father, Kim Jong Il.
“Just as there are no parents who do not appreciate a daughter who looks just like them, the residents say that Kim Jong Un, like any normal parent, simply wants to show his cute daughter the launch of a new kind of missile,” the source said.
“Everyone is amazed that Kim Jong Un’s daughter resembles her father, just as Kim Jong Un resembles Kim Il Sung,” the source said, referring to his grandfather and the founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1948.
Others were critical of Kim, saying that showing his daughter the missile test exposed her to his violent, immoral side, the source said.
The state-run Korea Central News Agency had a different take.
It declared that the father-daughter appearance at the missile launch epitomized Kim’s devotion to his country and family: Kim had come to personally guide a “historic major strategic weapon test-fire, a crucial milestone in bolstering up the nuclear forces of the DPRK, together with his beloved daughter and wife.”
Some speculated that the daughter’s emergence may have meant to distract the public and tamp down resentment over the missile tests, which are viewed widely – but secretly – as a waste of resources, the source said.
Feelings toward Kim have soured as he focuses on improving the country’s military capabilities while the people struggle to survive in an economy that has not yet recovered from harsh coronavirus restrictions and is still subject to international nuclear sanctions.
“This time, people only talked about his daughter, not the missile,” the source said. “It seems intended to divert residents’ anger and antipathy toward the missile launch.”
Women in the northwestern province of North Hamgyong were quite interested in Kim Ju Ae’s apparel, a resident there said on condition of anonymity to avoid reprisal.
“Women who have children of the same age as Kim Jong Un’s daughter were also interested in the white cotton clothes and the shoes she wore,” she said.
The second source said that people are now contrasting Kim Jong Un and his father, and curiosity is growing as they wonder how many more children he might have.
“It is not easy to know the information about the great leader’s family,” she said. “Even if you know something, it is a secret that you should never tell others. In breaking this convention, there must have been a purpose to [Kim] revealing his daughter himself.”
The public appearance might have been to reveal Kim Ju Ae to the international community, and to normalize missile launches to the North Korean public to the point that they are events that can be attended by children, South Korea’s Unification Minister Kwon Young-sae told a Seoul-based media outlet.