A childhood friend that has visited North Korean leader Kim Jong Un several times over the years told Radio Free Asia that he has never met Kim’s son, casting doubt on previous intelligence reports about the leader’s family life.
South Korean intelligence has said multiple times that Kim, with his wife Ri Sol Ju, has fathered three children: a son around 2010, a daughter named Ju Ae around 2013, and another daughter in 2017.
Since late last year, Kim has repeatedly appeared with Ju Ae in public, leading to speculation that he might be grooming her to one day rule the country. But others said that was not likely, citing North Korea’s patriarchal society and the belief that he had a son.
João Micaelo, now a chef, was a classmate of Kim’s when they both attended the Liebefeld-Steinhölzli public school in Switzerland from 1998 to 2000. The son of a Portuguese embassy employee, Micaelo is known to have been close friends with the future North Korean leader while attending the school.
Micaelo visited with Kim in 2012 when Ri was pregnant with Ju Ae, and again after she was born.
“In 2013 [on my next visit], I didn’t see his wife, but I knew it was a girl. I heard it was like she was pregnant [with] a girl,” said Micaelo.
When asked if he had met Kim’s son, Micaelo said that Kim had never told him anything about a son.
Another source from a Western country, who is very close to Kim Jong Un and visited him around the same time as Micaelo, also told RFA on condition of anonymity that he had never heard Kim talk about any sons.
“I never heard a word about his son from Kim Jong Un,” the source said. “[He] was proud of Ju Ae all the time. I believe she might be the first child.”
During former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s highly publicized first visit to North Korea in 2013, he was introduced to Ju Ae, and his account of the trip was the first time her name was revealed to the outside world. He is not known to have met a son of Kim.
In March, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service reported at a meeting of the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s first child is a son.
The spy agency reported that “although there is no specific evidence that the first child is a son, it is certain through information sharing with external intelligence agencies that it is a son.”
But a high-ranking official from the South Korean Ministry of Unification met with reporters on May 22nd and said, “It is uncertain whether there is a first child [before Ju Ae] or not.”
Kim’s son may not in fact exist, said Ken Gause, director of Center for Naval Analyses.
“When Rodman was there, he visited Kim Jong Un in Wonsan … there were a lot of Kim relatives, including Kim Sol Song [his half-sister], but there was no son there,” said Gause.
“I’ve also heard that potentially the son, if there is a son, may have some mental disorder or some sort of issue like that, [so] they may have wanted to keep him away … from outsiders being able to see him,” he said.
Because Ju Ae is constantly in the spotlight, it seems that she may be Kim’s firstborn, he said.
“I have always tended to believe that the son either doesn’t exist … because there was never any talk about, ‘Oh, I also have a son,’ I mean, [they] seem to act as if this were his first child, gushing about Ju Ae and everything,” he said.
The family and authorities seems to be “very protective and very mom-like” toward Ju Ae, “which suggests … this wasn’t their second child, this was their first child.”
Translated by Leejin J. Chung. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.