SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his young daughter took center stage during a massive military parade, fueling speculation that she is being groomed by as future leader of the isolated country as her father showed off his latest, biggest nuclear missiles.
Wednesday night’s parade in the capital, Pyongyang, showcased the latest hardware in Kim’s growing nuclear arsenal, including what experts said may be a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile he could test in the coming months.
The missile was among a dozen ICBMs Kim’s troops deployed at the event – an unprecedented number that underscored how he continues to expand his military capabilities despite limited resources. in the face of heightened tensions with its neighbors and the United States.
The parade was the fifth known public appearance for Kim’s daughter, Kim Ju Ae, her second child who is believed to be around 10 years old. On Tuesday, Kim Jong Un brought his daughter to visit the troops as he praised the “irresistible power” of his nuclear army.
State media reported a prominent role for Kim Ju Ae. She has been called “respected” and “beloved”, and a photo released Wednesday showed her sitting in the seat of honor at a banquet, flanked by generals and her parents.
The parade marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s military and came after weeks of preparations involving large numbers of soldiers and civilians mobilized to glorify Kim’s rule and his relentless efforts to cement the status of his country as a nuclear power..
Video from North Korean state television released on Thursday showed Kim, dressed in a black rib and fedora, arriving at the parade with his wife and daughter in a limo. They received thunderous cheers from thousands of soldiers and spectators crammed into the illuminated Kim Il Sung Square, named after his grandfather, the nation’s founder.
After saluting her honor guards, Kim held her daughter’s hand as they walked down a red carpet. The family entered a building where they sat on a leather sofa, chatting and sharing snacks and drinks with senior officials as they waited for the main march to begin.
Troops and onlookers howled again when Kim appeared from behind the building as the clock struck 9 p.m. He smiled and waved to the crowd below before taking his place on a balcony, with his wife and daughter seated behind him.
Thousands of goose-stepping soldiers marched through the square chanting “Defend with your life, Paektu Bloodline”, referring to the Kim family lineage named after a volcano North Koreans hold sacred.
A unit of ceremonial cavalry trotted through the square on white horses, another symbol associated with the dynastic rule of the Kim family. The show described one of the animals as Kim’s daughter’s “most beloved”.
Tanks and several rocket launchers were deployed before the appearance of Kim’s nuclear missiles, which are usually saved for last.
The launch trucks carried about 10 Hwasong-17 ICBMs, a system that demonstrated potential to reach deep into the American continent during a flight test in November.
These missiles were followed by what appeared to be another type of long-range missile enclosed in cartridges and carried on nine-axle vehicles. It was not immediately clear if the missiles were actual rockets. But analysts say the use of cartridges strongly implicated a solid-fuel missile, most likely an ICBM that North Korea has been trying to develop for years.
North Korea’s existing ICBMs, including the Hwasong-17s, use liquid propellants, which require pre-launch injections and cannot remain powered for long periods. A solid-fuel alternative would take less time to prepare, “offering fewer opportunities to identify and counter an impending launch,” said Joseph Dempsey, an analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“Where North Korea stands in terms of completing the actual missile and integrating it onto the launch vehicle is unclear, but if North Korea parades it, a launch attempt this year could well be on the cards. “, did he declare.
The unprecedented number of Hwasong-17s at Wednesday’s event suggests progress in efforts to produce these weapons in greater numbers, said Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul.
The parade came after Kim met with his top military brass on Monday and ordered an expansion of combat drills, as he continues to step up an already provocative round of weapons testing amid rising tensions with its neighbors and Washington.
The official Korean Central News Agency said the parade featured a variety of nuclear-capable weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons aimed at South Korea. The agency described ICBMs as crucial weapons supporting North Korea’s current stance of “nuke for nuke and all-out confrontation for all-out confrontation” with its enemies.
Lee Sung-jun, spokesperson for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a briefing that the South Korean and US military were closely analyzing North Korean photos and reports to assess armament.
North Korea has just had a record year for weapons testing. The dozens of missiles it fired in 2022 included potentially nuclear-capable systems designed to strike targets in South Korea and on the American mainland.
The intensified testing was punctuated by fiery pronouncements and a new law threatening pre-emptive nuclear attacks against its neighbors and the United States in a wide range of scenarios.
Kim doubled his nuclear push as he entered 2023.
At a major political conference in December, he called for an ‘exponential increase’ in the country’s nuclear warheadsthe mass production of tactical battlefield nuclear weapons targeting “enemy” South Korea and the development of more advanced ICBMs.
In December, Kim oversaw a test of a “high-thrust solid-fuel engine” for a new strategic weapon he said would be developed in “the shortest period of time,” which experts said would make probably referring to a solid fuel ICBM.
Solid-fuel ICBMs were high on a long wish list announced by Kim as part of a five-year weapons development plan in 2021. It also included tactical nuclear weapons, hypersonic missiles, submarines nuclear propulsion and spy satellites.
Analysts say Kim’s decision to bring her daughter to major public events involving her military sends a declaration to the world that he has no intention of voluntarily surrendering his nuclear weapons, which he apparently considers the best guarantee of his survival and the extension of his family’s dynastic rule.
An official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity under department rules during a briefing, said Kim Ju Ae’s repeated appearances at important events and his significant exposure in state media were also intended to bolster loyalty to the Kim family.. The official said it was too early to determine if she was ready to succeed her father, but added that “all possibilities are open”.
“We can only speculate at this point,” said Duyeon Kim, a senior analyst at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC. importance, status and legitimacy of a direct offspring of the Kim line, it is too early to assume that she will be his heir as the son has always succeeded to the throne of North Korea.
South Korean media have speculated that Kim has three children – born in 2010, 2013 and 2017 – with the first child being a son and the third a daughter.