SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his young daughter took center stage at a huge military parade, fueling speculation that she is being primed as a future leader of the isolated country as her father showed off his latest, largest nuclear missiles.
Wednesday night’s parade in the capital, Pyongyang, featured the newest hardware in Kim’s growing nuclear arsenal, including what experts said was possibly a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile he may test in coming months.
That missile was part of around a dozen ICBMs Kim’s troops rolled out at the event, an unprecedented number that underscored how he continues to expand his military capabilities despite limited resources in the face of deepening tensions with his neighbors and the United States.
The parade was the fifth known public appearance by Kim’s daughter, Kim Ju Ae, his second-born child who is believed to be around 10 years old. On Tuesday, Kim Jong Un brought his daughter to visit troops as he lauded the “irresistible might” of his nuclear-armed military.
State media have signaled a lofty role for Kim Ju Ae. She has been called “respected” and “beloved,” and a photo released Tuesday showed her sitting in the seat of honor at a banquet, flanked by generals and her parents.
North Korean photos released Wednesday showed Kim, wearing a black coat and fedora, attending the parade with his wife and daughter. Kim smiled and raised his hand from a balcony as thousands of troops lined up in a brightly illuminated Kim Il Sung Square, which is named after his grandfather, the nation’s founder.
The parade marked the 75th founding anniversary of North Korea’s army and came after weeks of preparations involving huge numbers of troops and civilians mobilized to glorify Kim’s rule and his relentless push to cement the North’s status as a nuclear power.
Photos released by state media showed transport and launcher trucks carrying about 10 of the country’s Hwasong-17 ICBMs, which demonstrated a flight range that would allow them to reach deep into the U.S. mainland during a flight test last year. Those missiles were followed by another large missile encased in a canister and transported on a 9-axle vehicle.
It was not immediately clear whether the missile was a mockup or an actual rocket, but Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, said the missile was likely a version of a solid-fuel ICBM the North has been trying to develop for years. He added that the unprecedented number of Hwasong-17s paraded in Wednesday’s event suggests progress in efforts to mass produce those weapons.
State media reports did not immediately mention whether Kim Jong Un delivered a speech during the event. The parade came after Kim met with his top military brass on Monday and ordered an expansion of combat exercises, as he continues to escalate an already provocative run in weapons demonstrations.
“This time, Kim Jong Un let North Korea’s expanding tactical and long-range missile forces speak for themselves,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
“The message Pyongyang wants to send internationally, demonstrating its capabilities to deter and coerce, will likely come in the form of solid-fuel missile tests and detonation of a miniaturized nuclear device,” he said. He was referring to U.S. and South Korean assessments that the North could be preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency confirmed that the parade featured a variety of nuclear-capable weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons targeting South Korea. The agency described the ICBMs as crucial weapons supporting the North’s ongoing “power-to-power, all-out confrontation” against its enemies.
Lee Sung-jun, spokesperson of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a briefing that the South Korean and U.S. militaries were closely analyzing the North Korean photos and reports to evaluate the weaponry.
Analysts say that by bringing his daughter to public events tied to his military, Kim is sending a statement to the world that he has no intention to voluntarily surrender his nuclear weapons, which he apparently sees as the strongest guarantee of his survival and the extension of his family’s dynastic rule.