North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the launch of his latest intercontinental ballistic missile accompanied by his daughter, whom he unveiled to the world for the first time, in a message published by the state-run KCNA on Saturday. Amid growing tensions on the Korean peninsula, Kim also reaffirmed that he would resort to the atomic bomb in the event of a nuclear attack on his country, after overseeing the launch of the Hwasong-17 on Friday “with success,” according to KCNA.
Friday’s latest launch confirms “that once again the DPRK’s nuclear forces have reached a new reliable maximum capability to contain any nuclear threat,” KCNA added, using the acronym of North Korea’s official name. The United Nations Security Council said on Saturday it would meet on Monday to discuss the situation.
A previously unknown family…
Extremely rare, KCNA, the sole source of information from Pyongyang, mentioned the family of Kim Jong Un, stressing that the leader had gone to the launch accompanied by his “beloved wife and (his) daughter “. Kim appeared alongside a young girl whose age is not specified, wearing a white puffer jacket and red shoes. The North Korean regime had never previously confirmed the existence of the leader’s family.
The South Korean intelligence services assure that Kim married Ri Sol Ju in 2009, who gave birth to three children between 2010 and 2017, without specifying the gender. For Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea specialist at the South Korean Sejong Institute, it could be Kim’s probable second child, Ju Ae. In 2013, the former star of the NBA, the American basketball league, Dennis Rodman, visiting Pyongyang, had given a rare testimony of the existence of this child, whom he had met.
“We saw with our own eyes the fourth generation of Kims”
His appearance revives speculation about a future dynastic transfer of power in North Korea, where Kim Jong Un succeeded his father Kim Jong Il and his grandfather Kim Il Sung. According to Soo Kim, a former analyst with the US intelligence agency CIA, Friday’s launch testifies to “the permanence of the Kim regime’s weapons program, as it is integral to its own survival and the continuity of the regime’s rule. his family”.
“It even partly answers questions surrounding the succession,” the analyst, now at the RAND Corporation, told AFP. “We’ve seen the fourth generation of Kims with our own eyes. And his daughter — as well as other potential siblings — will certainly be groomed by her father,” she said.
Strong tensions with Tokyo, Seoul and Washington
The United States, South Korea and Japan have stepped up joint military maneuvers in recent months since Kim Jong Un declared in September that North Korea’s nuclear state status was “irreversible”. Seoul and Washington notably conducted the largest joint air exercises in their history in late October and early November.
On Saturday, the South Korean army announced that an American B-1B bomber had been redeployed to the Korean peninsula, as part of new exercises between the two allies. But North Korea sees these shows of force as general rehearsals for an invasion of its territory or an attempt to overthrow the regime. Kim even called them “war exercises of hysterical aggression” and promised to respond “resolutely to nuclear weapons with nuclear weapons and to all-out confrontation with all-out confrontation”, as quoted by the KCNA.
The North Korean national news agency said the missile reached “a maximum altitude of 6,040.9 km and traveled a distance of 999.2 km” before “accurately landing on the predefined area” in the Sea of the East, or Sea of Japan. The distance and elevation match estimates given by Seoul and Tokyo on Friday, and are only slightly lower than those of the ICBM fired by Pyongyang on March 24, which appears to be its strongest test ever.
North Korea had already claimed to have tested on March 24 a Hwasong-17 – which is among the most powerful weapons in Pyongyang and which has been dubbed the “monster missile” by military analysts – but Seoul then put in doubt this assertion. This time, analysts said the trial appeared to be successful. “This launch is significant because it is (probably) the first successful test” of this missile, underlined to AFP Joseph Dempsey, researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
Pyongyang unleashed an unprecedented flurry of missile strikes in early November, one of which fell near South Korea’s territorial waters. November 2 alone saw 23 North Korean missile launches, more than all of 2017, when leader Kim Jong Un and then-US President Donald Trump threatened each other with a nuclear apocalypse. In September and October, Pyongyang had already fired a copious salvo of projectiles, one of which had flown over Japan for the first time in five years.