North Korea is a notoriously secretive nation that grooms its public image with a fine-toothed comb. While Americans pick apart our politicians and celebrities down to their coats and kids, we can’t do the same with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and his family.
The world knows very little about Kim’s family. We’ve compiled everything we know about the powerful dynasty so far and what its structure could mean for the future of North Korea (page 7).
1. He allegedly has a son
He’s been called “Kid Kim” and “the prince of Pyongyang,” but we know next to nothing about Kim’s first child, allegedly a son. In 2012, North Korea confirmed that Ri Sol Ju was Kim’s wife and the first lady. Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, told The Korea Times that the two married in 2009 and had a son in 2010, according to Newsweek.
The Times U.K. acknowledged the boy’s existence for the first time in September 2017. Still, reports of his son are just that — reports.
Next: Why it’s crucial Kim Jong Un has a son
2. Kim needs to produce an heir
The North Korean leader has a brutal reputation for ridding North Korea of his family members. Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Un’s older brother, was once thought as the clear heir to the Pyongyang throne. But he was publicly humiliated over a trip to Tokyo Disneyland and lived in exile in Macau when he was suspiciously killed at an airport.
Still, Kim needs an heir. But some experts are skeptical of the reports about Kim Jong Un’s alleged children, especially a baby boy. North Korea Leadership Watch blog founder Michael Madden told Newsweek a baby boy would be announced because North Korea’s hereditary ruling system dictates a need for Kim to produce an heir.
Next: This athlete delivered the news of Kim’s alleged daughter.
3. Dennis Rodman brought America news of Kim’s daughter
Retired NBA player Dennis Rodman became friends with Kim during a basketball exhibition trip in 2013. Rodman made two trips to North Korea and returned from the second with some fairly unbelievable news.
Rodman claimed he met Kim and Ri, as well as their daughter, an alleged infant at the time. “I held their baby Ju-ae and spoke with Ms. Ri as well,” he told The Guardian. “He’s a good dad and has a beautiful family.”
Next: We’re sensing a pattern with Kim’s wife.
4. Kim’s wife disappeared for the better part of 2016
Every time Kim’s wife, Ri, disappeared from the public eye, the media speculated she was purged from Kim’s life and the dynasty. But she returned, allegedly after giving birth to another of Kim’s kids.
Ri is rarely seen in public to begin with, and most of her life is kept a secret. Media outlets report her as “in her 30s,” but nobody knows her official age. Some speculate that Ri Sol Ju isn’t her real name and instead is a pseudonym to further shield her from the public eye.
Next: Here’s where the family stands now.
5. South Korea intelligence recently reported a third child
Representatives of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service reported they believed that Ri gave birth to their third child in February 2017. The child’s gender and name remain a secret. The Korea Herald reported the alleged birth but had few details.
6. There are no public photos of their kids
You might not see any photos of Kim with his own kids, but he capitalizes on opportunities to pose for propaganda photos with other people’s children. While Kim has publicized some odd propaganda excursions in the past — including his visit to a lube factory and a hosiery factory — the photo of him smiling next to school kids in Pyongyang is the most ironic.
UNICEF director Manuel Fontaine estimated that 60,000 North Korean kids could starve to death as Kim hoards the country’s resources, according to Reuters. Kim’s nuclear missile program resulted in international sanctions on North Korea. And as a result, the country is struggling to access potentially lifesaving deliveries.
Next: Here’s where the future of North Korea stands.
7. The country expects 1 of the kids to take over the dynasty
One of the three alleged kids is likely to succeed Kim Jong Un. North Korea’s one-party ruling system strictly adheres to “patriarchal East Asian cultural tradition,” Newsweek explained, which requires Kim to have a male heir to the throne.
That is why reports of the birth of a son are significant for the “Paektu bloodline.” The fundamental principles of the Korean Workers’ Party, of which Kim Jong Un is the leader, state “party and revolution must be carried eternally by the Paektu bloodline,” according to the Times U.K.
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