The young daughter of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, who has frequently accompanied her father at public events, including long-range missile tests, is Mr. Kim’s most likely successor should he die, the South Korean intelligence agency told lawmakers on Thursday.
Although North Korea has not revealed any personal details about the daughter, including her name and age, South Korean officials have identified her as Kim Ju-ae. As a baby, Ju-ae drew headlines when the retired N.B.A. star Dennis Rodman said he was allowed to hold the child upon meeting Mr. Kim in Pyongyang in 2013.
The North’s state media has referred to her as a “most beloved” or “respected” child of Mr. Kim and has shown military generals and other high-ranking officials kneeling before her. Such scenes have triggered widespread speculation among outside analysts that the daughter was being groomed as heir apparent to her father.
But until now, the South Korean government has been cautious in speculating about the girl’s status within Pyongyang’s secretive regime. South Korean officials have said that although the dynastic rule of the Kim family would probably continue in the North after Mr. Kim’s death, they were not sure which child would succeed him.
Mr. Kim had another child younger than Ju-ae, according to South Korean officials. They said they were checking intelligence that Mr. Kim may also have a child older than Ju-ae who might be a son. So far, Ju-ae is the only child of Mr. Kim known to have appeared in public.
“As of now, Kim Ju-ae is seen as the most likely successor,” the National Intelligence Agency, South Korea’s main government-run spy agency, said in an assessment released on Thursday through a member of the National Assembly. The assessment was included in written answers the agency provided to questions from Youn Kun Young, a member of the Assembly’s intelligence committee.
But the agency cautioned that it was also considering “all possibilities” in the North’s succession plan, given “many variables.” It did not elaborate, other than noting that Mr. Kim was still young — he turns 40 on Monday — and was not known to have serious health issues.
Ju-ae made her first public appearance in November 2022, when she watched a long-range missile test with her father. She has since accompanied Mr. Kim to important state events, like military parades, sharing the center stage with her father in North Korean media coverage. The state media has often shown the father and daughter hooking arms and touching each other’s faces in loving gestures.
In a New Year’s Eve celebration in Pyongyang on Sunday, Mr. Kim was seen on North Korean TV footage hugging and kissing his daughter on the cheek.
North Korea is not a monarchy, but it has had dynastic leadership since the end of World War II. Its top leader is supposedly elected through a ruling Workers’ Party congress. In reality, though, the Kims have run the country like a private family enterprise since its founding. Both Mr. Kim’s grandfather and father ruled until they died. Mr. Kim took over after his father, Kim Jong-il, died in 2011.
The question of who would inherit the regime — and the country’s fast-growing nuclear arsenal — has fascinated officials and analysts, especially when doubts about Mr. Kim’s health have occasionally emerged. If Ju-ae replaces Mr. Kim as leader, she would be the first female ruler of the deeply patriarchal and male-dominant North.
It is notoriously difficult to predict the inner workings of the opaque regime in Pyongyang. Many outside analysts had long speculated that one of Kim Jong-un’s two elder brothers would replace their father — until North Korea revealed Mr. Kim as successor following Kim Jong-il’s stroke in 2008.
Ju-ae is believed to be around 10 years old. Analysts said that, given her young age, it was still too early to tell whether she would eventually develop the kind of ruthless leadership qualities that her father demonstrated while establishing his unchallenged authority through a series of bloody purges, including the execution of his uncle and the assassination of his half brother.