In North Korea, everything happens for a reason. North Korean propaganda is carefully controlled by those closest to the current leader and his plans for the near future, whatever those plans may be. In terms of who rules North Korea, it can often mean the sudden appearance of a new successor.
State-run media has been highlighting a new member of the Kim family, Kim Ju Ae, a school-aged girl who is seen sitting between her father, Kim Jong-Un, and members of North Korea’s senior military leadership. Many North Korea watchers believe her appearance is a sign of her coming to power in the regime.
When Kim Jong-Il was being groomed for succession as the Dear Leader with North Korea’s founder (and still current president) Kim Il-Sung, he was seen in propaganda growing ever closer to the elder Kim. For decades, Kim Jong-Il was depicted taking more and more prominent roles in North Korea’s government.
Kim Il-Sung died in 1994, with Kim Jong-Il taking over as the de facto ruler of the Hermit Kingdom. For the almost 17 years that followed, Kim Jong-Il played the role of leader by himself. In 2008, the Dear Leader’s health began declining rapidly and he decided that a successor needed to be named. He favored his son Kim Jong-Un and it was time for the “Great Successor’s” meteoric rise.
In 2009, Kim Jong-Un was elected to the Supreme People’s Assembly, essentially a rubber stamp for the leader’s policies. The youngest Kim was then elevated in the North Korean military and in the Korean Workers Party, all signs that he was to be the regime’s next leader. Songs were written for Kim Jong-Un, songs that were only reserved for those in the leader’s position, like Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung.
Then, Kim Jong-Il died in December of 2011. The reports of his son’s elevation as Great successor turned out to be true. He assumed power in North Korea, along with his official titles and a very North Korean propaganda story about his young life. He consolidated his power over the next few years, taking on more titles while eliminating potential threats to his power.
For many North Korea watchers, the next succession has already begun. North Korean government newspaper Rodong Sinmun featured a recent story about Kim Jong-Un’s visit to an army barracks. With him he brought his daughter Kim Ju Ae, sitting in front of North Korea’s military leaders. She also received a title upgrade, from “beloved daughter” to “respected daughter.” It may seem minor to the untrained eye, but for North Korea watchers, it’s a big change.
“Given these developments, there is no longer a question about whether Kim Ju Ae has been chosen as Kim Jong Un’s successor,” Cheong Seong-Chang of the Sejong Institute in South Korea told the Washington Post.
Though Kim Jong-Un’s succession happened relatively quickly, in years instead of decades, this succession story will likely begin earlier because North Korea is a firmly-entrenched patriarchy. Convincing a public whose males dominate society that a woman can take over the reins of power will be much more difficult than Kim Jong-Un’s. He was a successor who is male and happens to look like North Korea’s eternal president, Kim Il-Sung. It shows just how much thought and effort goes into keeping millions of people locked in a country as slaves to the elite.