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North Korea’s Designated Successor-Will It Be Ju Ae or His Mysterious Son?

Kim Ju Ae, a probable successor to Kim Jong Un
The National Intelligence Service keeps possibilities open due to variables
North Korea’s economy has deteriorated following the pandemic

Source: News1

Kim Jong Un has recently been observed actively pursuing the dynastic succession. According to Unification Minister Kim Young Ho, North Korea’s swift promotion of Kim Jong Un’s daughter, Kim Ju Ae, reflects the determination to uphold the succession amidst the nation’s ongoing challenges. In September 2023, the National Intelligence Service emphasized that it was premature to designate Kim Ju Ae as Kim Jong Un’s successor.

Nonetheless, amid the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and persistent international isolation, North Korea’s efforts to signal succession have reportedly been discerned. As a result, in January 2024, a revised perspective was presented by the National Intelligence Service during a meeting at the office of Democratic Party Representative Lee In Young. The shared materials indicated that the agency stated, “Upon analyzing the nature and frequency of public engagements following Kim Ju Ae’s emergence, we presently view Kim Ju Ae as a formidable successor to Kim Jong Un.” However, the agency also cautioned, “Given Kim Jong Un’s youthfulness, absence of significant health issues, and the presence of numerous variables, we are maintaining an open-minded approach to all potential scenarios.”

According to foreign media reports, Kim Jong Un and Ri Sol Ju are believed to have a ‘first son’ alongside Kim Ju Ae, born in 2013. The media suggests that the first son is of diminutive stature and does not resemble Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Un. Consequently, Kim Jong Un, who values the ‘Baekdu bloodline,’ may have refrained from selecting his son, who lacks resemblance to his father and grandfather, as his successor. Conversely, Kim Ju Ae, exhibiting robust health and a plump physique unlike the prevalent image of North Koreans grappling with hunger, is anticipated to garner more support as she mirrors the appearances of Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Il Sung.

Source: News1

The reason North Korea threatens South Korea while showcasing its successor is believed to be an attempt to deflect its internal problems outward.

In 2023, following the launch of a purported military reconnaissance satellite, North Korea reinstated the demilitarized zone surveillance post. It bolstered the Panmunjom North Korean army, heightening tensions on the Korean Peninsula. This move is perceived as North Korea showcasing its military prowess and rallying its populace behind Kim Jong Un by antagonizing South Korea.

Furthermore, North Korea, which is internationally isolated, is known to be dreaming of cooperation related to ‘nuclear’ with Russia. Russia, too, is isolated for committing atrocities such as slaughtering civilians in the Ukraine war and is the target of international criticism and condemnation.

On the 13th, Russian President Putin remarked that North Korea possesses its own nuclear umbrella, signaling a strategic move to disregard the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and acknowledge the country’s possession of nuclear weapons. According to Reuters, Putin conveyed to Russia’s ‘Rossiya 1’ broadcaster, “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has its own nuclear umbrella.” Speculation suggests that Putin’s statement aims to unsettle South Korea while fostering collaboration with North Korea.

Source: News1

Nuclear experts say that while North Korea technically has nuclear weapons capabilities, it is a separate issue from being recognized as a nuclear-possessing country by the international community.

Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the recognized nuclear powers include the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China. Furthermore, India, Pakistan, and Israel are the only three nations officially acknowledged as possessing nuclear arsenals. North Korea is actively pursuing the status of a “political nuclear power.” Therefore, Putin’s public acknowledgment of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities has the potential to send shockwaves throughout the international community.

Source: News1

Meanwhile, the Unification Ministry and KAIST announced the results of an analysis using artificial intelligence and satellites of four regions in the western part of North Korea, showing that the economy near Pyongyang is in decline. The economy of North Korea is not growing but rather regressing.

On the 13th, the Unification Ministry, in partnership with KAIST, unveiled satellite images of Pyongyang, South Pyongan Province, North Pyongan Province, and Jagang Province, along with the outcomes of economic development evaluations employing AI methods. This comprehensive analysis scrutinized 173,543 images captured between 2016, 2019, and 2021. By comparing data from these years, the KAIST research team aimed to gauge the impact of international sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic on North Korea’s economic progress.

The KAIST research team first trained AI models to recognize patterns correlating with economic development and then conducted their analysis. They divided the analysis area into detailed 0.38 square kilometer (0.61 square kilometer × 0.61 square kilometer) grids and assigned an economic development score ranging from 0 to 1 to each grid section. This economic development score, referred to as the “siScore,” was derived from satellite images, as stated by the Unification Ministry. Consequently, the system can estimate economic development by tracking changes in artificial structures like buildings and infrastructure like roads.

According to the data released by the research team, the economic development score increased by 0.0100 from 2016 to 2019. However, from 2019 to 2021, the figure only increased by 0.0059. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic from 2019 to 2021, they found that the economic development score in Pyongyang dropped from 0.1149 to 0.1105.

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