SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The recently unveiled daughter of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is being home-schooled and spends her leisure time horseback riding, skiing and swimming, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers Tuesday.
Kim has brought the daughter to a series of public events since November, including a missile launch site, sparking intense outside debate over whether the girl, reportedly named Kim Ju Ae and about 10 years old, is being primed as his successor.
The South Korean government has assessed that Kim, 39, hasn’t anointed her as his heir. But it says he likely aims to use his daughter’s appearances as a way to show his people that one of his children would one day inherit his power in what would be the country’s third hereditary power transfer.
In a closed-door parliamentary committee meeting Tuesday, the National Intelligence Service maintained that assessment, saying Kim Jong Un is still too young and healthy to appoint his successor, according to Yoo Sang-bum, one of the lawmakers who attended the session.
The NIS said the daughter’s unveiling largely appeared intended to underscore the imperativeness of another hereditary power succession, Yoo told reporters.
The NIS told lawmakers that Kim Ju Ae has never been enrolled at an official education facility and is taking homeschooling in Pyongyang, Yoo said. He quoted the NIS as saying her hobbies are horseback riding, skiing and swimming.
The NIS said it has an information that Kim Ju Ae is “very good at horseback riding” and that Kim Jong Un is satisfied with that, the lawmaker said.
Last month, Kim Jong Un and his daughter took center stage at a Pyongyang military parade, which featured a ceremonial cavalry unit trotting through the parade plaza riding white horses — a symbol associated with the Kim family’s dynastic rule. The North’s state TV described one of the animals as “most beloved” by Kim Ju Ae.
The NIS also said that Kim Ju Ae has an elder brother and a younger sibling whose gender is still unknown. It said reports that Kim’s first child, a son, has mental or physical problems haven’t been verified, according to the lawmaker.
Some experts say it’s almost certain that Kim Ju Ae is her father’s successor because state media have called her Kim Jong Un’s “most beloved” or “respected” child and published images showing her closeness with her father. But others disagree, citing Kim’s relative young age and the extremely male-dominated nature of North Korea’s power hierarchy.
Since its foundation in 1948, North Korea has been successively ruled by male members of the Kim family: Kim’s father Kim Jong Il and his grandfather and state founder Kim Il Sung.
The name of Ju Ae matched what retired NBA star Dennis Rodman called Kim’s baby daughter, whom he said he saw and held during his trip to Pyongyang in 2013.
The NIS has a spotty record in confirming developments in the secretive North. It often releases its finding on North Korea through a parliamentary committee meeting.
Meeting with reporters alongside Yoo, lawmaker Youn Kun-young quoted the NIS as saying that it’s difficult to estimate the exact number of people in North Korea who have recently died of a worsening food shortage. He said the NIS told lawmakers that starvation-related deaths in North Korea aren’t serious enough to threaten the North’s system.
Experts say the North’s food situation is the worst it has been under Kim’s 11-year rule, but maintain they see no signs of imminent famine or mass deaths.
The NIS assessed the North’s food problem is attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, its agricultural policy and an issue of grain distribution.