North Korea

Images of plump, well-dressed daughter of Kim Jong Un arouse secret resentment


‘She must be eating so well, her face is so white and plump like the moon.’

Images of plump, well-dressed daughter of Kim Jong Un arouse secret resentment

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter Kim Ju Ae attend a ceremony for the construction of a new street, in Sopho District, Pyongyang, in this undated photo released on February 26, 2023 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The officially titled “Beloved Child” of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wore a fur-collared long coat with golden buttons, festooned with a golden brooch  and high-quality leather gloves. 

She was careful not to mess up her immaculately-primped hairstyle as she, her father, and several other VIPs dug the ceremonial first shovels of dirt at the dedication of a new street in the capital Pyongyang on Feb. 25 in her latest official public appearance, and third in the same month. 

Experts speculate that the recent introduction of Kim Ju Ae, believed to be 9 years old, is either an part of a propaganda effort to soften her father’s image by portraying him as a family man, or that she is being positioned to one day rule after her father.

Either way, the media barrage has aroused widespread, if secret, resentment among the North Korean public, sources in the country say. It reminded the people of the national pecking order: Those close to the country’s leadership come first, and everyone else lives in relative squalor. 

In a country plagued by chronic food shortages and widespread poverty, merely surviving is a struggle for many. So reports of the latest father-daughter event upset many people, a resident of the northwestern province of North Pyongan told Radio Free Asia’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity for security reasons. 

“It makes me angry that my situation is so hard to bear, and Kim Ju Ae, who we all know is eating and living well, is showing up on TV in her fancy clothes so often,” the source said.

Round, rosy cheeks

Other people noticed how healthy Ju Ae looked with her round, rosy cheeks.

“The people are saying things like, ‘She must be eating so well, her face is so white and plump like the moon,’” the source said. “Most people aren’t able to eat properly so their cheekbones stick out from their faces even more than ever before.”

Residents living north of the capital in South Pyongan province compared Kim Ju Ae’s appearance to the skinny children that live in their neighborhoods, a source there told RFA.

“They are angry to see the plump white face of the Beloved Child appearing so often in propaganda,” the second source said. “They say that she looks so different than the children of the common people, who cannot even eat three meals a day due to a lack of food.”

South Korean experts estimate that North Korea will be short 1 million tons of grain this year, about 20% of its annual demand, the Associated Press reported on Monday. 

Parading Kim Ju Ae around in such fine clothes is hypocritical when authorities punish high-schoolers for supposedly following capitalist culture for growing their hair long or chasing fashion trends, the second source said.

“Kim Ju Ae’s clothing and appearance are completely different from what an ordinary teenage girl could get away with.”

Groomed to be leader one day?

The street dedication was Ju Ae’s seventh public appearance since she first showed up at an intercontinental ballistic missile test in November 2022.

With each successive appearance, rumblings among observers that Kim Jong Un may be preparing her to one day take his place grow louder.

But it is still too early to consider her as heir apparent, Kwon Young Se, South Korea’s minister of unification said on CBS Radio on Tuesday.

“Even if North Korea creates a succession structure from now on, questions remain as to whether a woman will be able to lead the military-centered North Korean regime,” he said.

Kwon said that North Korea is far more patriarchal and male-centered than the more prosperous, democratic South, and a successor is likely not a priority for the regime right now because Kim Jong Un at 40 years old is relatively young compared to most world leaders. 

But he did not completely discount the idea. Kwon said that North Korea has shown signs that it wants dynastic rule to pass to a fourth generation, but it is not clear if Kim Ju Ae is the successor. 

Kim is believed to have three children with his wife Ri Sol Ju, but whether any of his children are boys has not been confirmed, Kwon said.

Ken Gause of the Virginia-based Center for Naval Analyses think tank, told RFA in an interview for a previous report that Kim Ju Ae is far too young to be named successor right now. But introducing her to the people at such a young age may be part of a long term plan to normalize her so that her gender is less of an obstacle if and when she becomes the successor at a later date.

“If you’re going to do something like this, you’re probably going to have to get started early and spend not years but probably decades socializing this with the larger leadership,” said Gause.

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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