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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un brought a child believed to be his daughter to a lavish banquet at a military barracks on Tuesday, the latest sign the girl is possibly being groomed as his eventual successor in an authoritarian family regime dating back decades.
The girl – believed to be Kim’s second child, Ju Ae, who is around 9 years old – and her father were joined by his wife, Ri Sol Ju, in the visit to the barracks and subsequent banquet to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), state media reported Wednesday.
A Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report described seeing Kim and “his respected” daughter as a dream come true for the military officials at the banquet.
Pictures published by the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed the girl walking next to Kim and her mother as they entered the venue for the banquet while military officers applauded.
At the banquet, the girl was seated in the center of the lead table between Kim and her mother.
In a country where the Kim family and the military are all powerful, the presence of the girl at such an important event sends clear signals, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“By ostentatiously including his wife and daughter, Kim wants observers at home and abroad to see his family dynasty and the North Korean military as irrevocably linked,” he said.
Other observers said it’s clear Kim has made a choice of his successor, confirming speculation that began with the girl’s appearance at the November test-launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with her father.
South Korean lawmaker and secretary of the National Intelligence Service Yoo Sang-bum said after that launch that the girl was thought to be Ju Ae.
Images showed the two walking hand in hand while inspecting the massive missile, while state media called her Kim’s “beloved” daughter.
North Korean state media published a story later that month with pictures of Kim and his daughter, describing her as his “most beloved” child, said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea.
“Considering these, there is no longer any doubt that Kim Ju Ae has been appointed as the successor to Kim Jong Un, and it is necessary to pay attention to how this will affect North Korea’s domestic and foreign policies in the mid- to long-term, and how North Koreans will accept the succession of the fourth generation,” Cheong said.
The Kim family’s rule in North Korea stretches back to 1948, when Kim Il Sung came to power in the aftermath of World War II.
When he died in 1994, his son Kim Jong Il took control of the country. Kim Jong Un came to power in December 2011 after the death of Kim Jong Il, his father.
There’s no indication Kim Jong Un would pass on the leadership anytime soon.
While the Kim regime has held previous such banquets for the military, pictures from Tuesday’s event depicted a more splashy setting than has been seen before.
“Kim’s lavish banquet commemorating the armed forces is meant to show that officers are highly respected in society and soldiers are well supported by the state,” Easley said.
KCNA reported that Kim Jong Un had made a speech at the banquet in which the North Korean leader praised and encouraged the military without making remarks about the United States or South Korea.
Tuesday’s banquet came a day before what many experts expect to be North Korea’s biggest military parade ever.
Pyongyang is coming off a record year of missile testing, and analysts are expecting to see examples of those missiles and more during an event expected to begin late Wednesday night.