Kim Jong-un was pictured hand-in-hand with his young daughter for the first time, revealing long-rumoured descendant of the elusive family, as the North Korean leader oversaw the launch of its most powerful missile.
The striking new pictures showed a young girl walking close to Mr Kim and holding his hand in the backdrop of the country’s largest intercontinental ballistic missile.
It comes as North Korea confirmed that it fired an ICBM missile on Friday, saying the launch of the Hwasong-17 missile — the North’s longest-range and nuclear-capable projectile — proved the weapon is reliable to contain US threats, according to state media KCNA.
The launch of the projectile was part of Pyongyang’s “top-priority defence-building strategy” aimed at establishing “the most powerful and absolute nuclear deterrence,” KCNA said, calling it “the strongest strategic weapon in the world.”
The missile that landed in the Japanese exclusive economic zone, 200km off the coast of Hokkaido in Japan, sparked outrage from world leaders and overshadowed the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Thailand.
The release of pictures by North Korean state media has sparked keen attention on the fourth-generation family member of the elusive dynastic family as the secretive family’s details remain little known.
Mr Kim oversaw the launch of the new type of ICBM with his wife Ri Sol Ju, their “beloved daughter” and other officials, KCNA reported.
The pictures published in Rodong Sinmnum newspaper showed the father-duo walking hand-in-hand and chatting near the missile, observing the take-off of the projectile and Mr Kim emotively speaking in a make-shift structure as his wife and daughter watched him.
Mr Kim has three children with his wife Ms Ri, according to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS), but KCNA did not reveal the name of the girl who was seen wearing a white coat and had her hair tied in a ponytail.
But in 2013, after a trip to Pyongyang, retired NBA star Dennis Rodman told the Guardian that he and Mr Kim had a “relaxing time by the sea” with the North Korean leader’s family and that he held Kim’s baby daughter, named Ju Ae.
Mr Rodman described Mr Kim as “a good dad”. He had said: “I held their baby Ju Ae and spoke with Ms Ri as well.”
The much-publicised pictures have sparked speculation if she would be Mr Kim’s potential successor as the 38-year-old ruler hasn’t publicly anointed an heir.
If Mr Kim continues to take his daughter to key public events, which could signal that she would become Mr Kim’s successor, said analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea.
“Under NorthKorea‘s system, the children of Kim Jong-un would have the status of a prince or princess, like in a dynasty. As the Rodong Sinmnum newspaper publicised the photo of the daughter, who took after Kim Jong-un and Ri Sol Ju so much — she has no choice but to live special lives,” Mr Cheong said.
“It’s much too soon to infer anything about succession within the Kim regime,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “However, publicly including his wife and daughter in what Kim claims as a historically successful missile test associates the family business of ruling NorthKorea with the nation’s missile programs.”
“This may be an attempt to compensate for how few economic accomplishments Kim has to support his domestic legitimacy,” Mr Easley said.
On Saturday, North Korea confirmed that Hwasong-17 was blasted off from Pyongyang International Airport. It covered a distance of 999.2km at a maximum altitude of 6,040.9km and flew for 69 minutes before landing accurately in the East Sea of Korea.
Pyongyang condemned the US and allies for creating “intolerable conditions ”with their “reckless military confrontational moves” and blamed the “hostile forces persistently driving the military and political situation in the Korean peninsula to the red line”.
It added that the US and allies’ “hypocritical and brigandish sophisms have been justified even in the UN arena to brand the right of a sovereign state to self-defence as provocation in every way”.
“Kim Jong Un solemnly declared that if the enemies continue to pose threats to the DPRK, frequently introducing nuclear strike means, our Party and government will resolutely react to nukes with nuclear weapons and to total confrontation with all-out confrontation,” it said, referring to North Korea by its official name.
Friday’s missile took a shorter altitude and distance compared to Pyongyang’s 24 March test of a similar missile. The missile reached an altitude of 6,248.5kms (3,905 miles) and flew a distance of 1,090kms (681 miles), KCNA reported at that time.
While world leaders gathered in Bangkok for Apec condemned the test, South Korean and the US military held joint drills in response to the test on Friday.
On Saturday, US B-1B bombers conducted joint aerial drills with South Korean and other US warplanes in response to the launch, according to South Korea‘s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The drills were to demonstrate an “iron-clad” US security commitment to South Korea and the allies.