Father and daughter walk hand in hand near the towering WMD.
That is North Korea showed the world the scene on Saturday as state media released the first photo of Kim Jong-un with what is believed to be a child What does his daughter Ju Ae check Experts said it was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
North Korea says missile was launched from Pyongyang International Airport on Friday It’s a Hwasong-17, a gigantic rocket that could theoretically deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental United States.
But even after Kim Jong-un warned his nuclear forces were preparing for “real combat” with Washington and its allies South Korea and Japan, it was the girl, not the missiles, that captured the world’s attention.
What does it mean for her to appear at the press conference? Could she be Kim’s successor? What does a 9-year-old girl have to do with nuclear weapons?
Leif Eric Easley, an associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said the girl’s existence should be viewed from a domestic perspective.
“Outside of North Korea, it might look unhinged to hold hands with a child and face the camera in front of a long-range missile designed to launch a nuclear weapon at a distant city,” Easley said.
“But inside North Korea, the alleged successful launch of the world’s largest road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile was a matter of national celebration.”
Yang Moo-jin, president of the University of North Korean Studies in the south, also pointed to a domestic bias in the portrayal of Kim Jong-il’s daughter.
Yang told CBC Global News: “By spending quality time with his daughter, he (Kim) seems to want to show that his family is a good and stable family and show that he is a leader of ordinary people.”
The photos also showed that the girl was a significant member of the Kim lineage, Yang said.
North Korea has been ruled by a hereditary dictatorship since Kim Il-sung founded it in 1948. His son Kim Jong Il took over after his father’s death in 1994. Kim Jong Un came to power 17 years after the death of Kim Jong Il.
But any near-term change in North Korea’s leadership is unlikely.
Kim Jong Un is only 38 years old. Even if some unexpected problem takes his life, it will probably take at least a decade or more for Ju Ae to replace her father on the throne of the North Korean state.
“I’m really not sure what effect bringing in his daughter would have on succession,” said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“On the one hand, no North Korean leader can take lightly the public exposure of (a) child, but she is underage and state media has not specifically highlighted her role in the testing,” he said.
Panda noted that North Korea’s release of video of Friday’s ICBM launch is likely to be more valuable to Western intelligence than anything gleaned from Kim’s daughter’s presence.
“The U.S. has advanced resources and methodologies to gain insight into North Korea’s missiles, but this video may contribute to a more complete model of missile performance,” he said.
“In the past, analysts have used video to deduce the acceleration of missile launch, which can help us determine its overall performance.”
According to Panda, this is the third time Pyongyang has released video of the missile launch since 2017.
“Before 2017, the North Koreans used to be more transparent, when their main concern was the credibility of their nuclear deterrent,” he said.
While Friday’s test did show Pyongyang could launch a large intercontinental ballistic missile and keep it aloft for more than an hour, North Korea still has yet to demonstrate the ability to place a warhead on a long-range ballistic missile (a projectile launched into space). Able to survive the scorching process of re-entering Earth’s atmosphere before crashing into its target.
But analysts say that through repeated testing, the North Koreans are refining their process. A missile believed to be the Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile tested earlier this month failed in the early stages of its flight.
“The fact that (Friday’s test) did not explode shows that they are making progress in addressing the technical issues that have marked previous tests,” said Hans Christensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.
What happens next in North Korea is anyone’s guess.
For most of this year, Western analysts and intelligence sources have been predicting a nuclear weapons test by North Korea, with satellite imagery showing activity at the nuclear test site. Such a test would be Pyongyang’s first in five years.
But Yang, president of the University of North Korean Studies, told Global News that Friday’s test may have dampened the urgency of the nuclear test, at least temporarily.
“The probability of North Korea conducting a seventh nuclear test in November now looks a bit low,” he said.
But he said another ICBM test could be Pyongyang’s response if the United States continues to strengthen its military presence in the region and expand exercises with South Korea and Japan.