- Kim Jong-un
- Early life and education
- Ruler of North Korea
|Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea|
9 May 2016
First Secretary (11 April 2012 – 9 May 2016)
|Preceded by||Kim Jong-il (as General Secretary)|
|Chairman of the State Affairs Commission|
30 June 2016
First Chairman (13 April 2012 – 30 June 2016)
|Preceded by||Himself (as Chairman of
the National Defence Commission)
|Supreme Commander of the
Korean People’s Army
30 December 2011
Supreme leader since 28 December 2011
|Preceded by||Kim Jong-il|
|Chairman of the Central Military Commission of
the Workers’ Party of Korea
11 April 2012
Acting: 17 December 2011 – 11 April 2012
|Preceded by||Kim Jong-il|
|Deputy to the
13th Supreme People’s Assembly
9 April 2014
|First Chairman of the
National Defence Commission
13 April 2012 – 29 June 2016
|Preceded by||Kim Jong-il (as Chairman)|
|Succeeded by||Himself (as Chairman of
the State Affairs Commission)
|Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission of
the Workers’ Party of Korea
28 September 2010 – 11 April 2012
Serving with Ri Yong-ho
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Choe Ryong-hae
|Born||(1982-01-08) 8 January 1982
Pyongyang, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
|Alma mater||Kim Il-sung University
Kim Il-sung Military University
|Years of service||2010–present|
|Rank||Marshal of the Republic|
Kim Jong-un (Chosŏn’gŭl: 김정은; Korean pronunciation: [kim.dʑʌŋ.ɯn] or [kim] [tɕʌŋ.ɯn]; ) is the Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), commonly referred to as North Korea. Kim is the second child of Kim Jong-il (1941–2011) and Ko Yong-hui. Before taking power, Kim was rarely seen in public, and many of the activities of Kim and his government remain unknown. Even details such as what year he was born, and whether he did indeed attend a Western school under a pseudonym, are difficult to confirm.
Kim was declared the supreme leader following the state funeral of his father on 28 December 2011. Kim holds the titles of Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Chairman of the State Affairs Commission, Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, and presidium member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. Kim was promoted to the rank of Marshal of North Korea in the Korean People’s Army on 18 July 2012, consolidating his position as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and is often referred to as Marshal Kim Jong-un or “the Marshal” by state media. Kim obtained two degrees, one in physics at Kim Il-sung University, and another as an Army officer at the Kim Il-sung Military University.
On 12 December 2013 official North Korean news outlets released reports that due to alleged “treachery,” he had ordered the execution of his uncle Jang Song-thaek. On 9 March 2014, Kim Jong-un was elected unopposed to the Supreme People’s Assembly. He is the first North Korean leader to have been born after the country’s founding. Kim Jong-un is widely believed to have ordered the assassination of his brother, Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia in February 2017.
Early life and education
Scarce information on Kim Jong-un’s early life comes from North Korean defectors and people who have claimed to witness him abroad, such as during his school attendance in Switzerland. Some of the information has been conflicting and contradictory, perhaps confusing him with his brother, Kim Jong-chul, who also attended school in Switzerland around the same time. Nevertheless, there has been some consensus on information about his early life. North Korean authorities have stated that his birthdate is 8 January 1982, but South Korean intelligence officials believe the actual date is a year later. Former basketball star Dennis Rodman said that the birthdate is 8 January 1983 after meeting Kim in September 2013 in North Korea. Kim Jong-Un was the second of three children Ko Yong-hui bore to Kim Jong-il; his elder brother Kim Jong-chul was born in 1981, while his younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, is believed to have been born in 1987.
According to reports first published in Japanese newspapers, he went to school in Switzerland near Bern. First reports claimed he attended the private English-language International School in Gümligen under the name “Chol-pak” or “Pak-chol” from 1993 to 1998. He was described as shy, a good student who got along well with his classmates and was a basketball fan. He was chaperoned by an older student, who was thought to be his bodyguard.
Later, it was reported that Kim Jong-un attended the Liebefeld Steinhölzli school in Köniz near Bern under the name “Pak-un” or “Un-pak” from 1998 until 2000 as the son of an employee of the North Korean embassy in Bern. Authorities of Köniz confirmed that a student from North Korea, registered as the son of a member of the embassy, attended the school from August 1998 until the autumn of 2000, but were unable to give details about his identity. Pak-un first attended a special class for foreign-language children and later attended the regular classes of the 6th, 7th, 8th, and part of the final 9th year, leaving the school abruptly in the autumn of 2000. He was described as a well-integrated and ambitious student who liked to play basketball. However, his grades and attendance rating are reported to have been poor. The ambassador of North Korea in Switzerland, Ri Chol, had a close relationship with him and acted as a mentor. One of Pak-un’s classmates told reporters that he had told him that he was the son of the leader of North Korea. According to some reports, Jong-un was described by classmates as a shy child who was awkward with girls and indifferent to political issues, but who distinguished himself in sports and had a fascination with the American National Basketball Association and Michael Jordan. One friend claimed that he had been shown pictures of Pak-un with Kobe Bryant and Toni Kukoč.
In April 2012, new documents came to light indicating that Kim Jong-un had lived in Switzerland since 1991 or 1992, earlier than previously thought.
The Laboratory of Anatomic Anthropology at the University of Lyon, France, after comparing the picture of the boy Pak-un taken at the Liebefeld Steinhölzli school in 1999 with a picture of Kim Jong-un from 2012 came to the conclusion that the two faces show a conformity of 95%. The head of the institute, Raoul Perrot, a forensic anthropologist, considers it most likely that the two pictures show the same person
It is believed that the student at the Gümligen International School may not have been Kim Jong-un, but his elder brother Kim Jong-chul. It is not known whether the student known as Pak-un in Liebefeld Steinhölzli lived in Switzerland prior to 1998. All the children of Kim Jong-il are said to have lived in Switzerland, as well as the mother of the two youngest sons, who lived in Geneva for some time.
Most analysts agree that Kim Jong-un attended Kim Il-sung University, a leading officer-training school in Pyongyang, from 2002 to 2007.
For many years, only one confirmed photograph of him was known to exist outside North Korea, apparently taken in the mid-1990s, when he was eleven. Occasionally other supposed images of him surfaced but were often disputed. It was only in June 2010, shortly before he was given official posts and publicly introduced to the North Korean people, that more pictures were released of Kim, taken when he was attending school in Switzerland. The first official image of him as an adult was a group photograph released on 30 September 2010, at the end of the party conference that effectively anointed him, in which he is seated in the front row, two places from his father. This was followed by newsreel footage of him attending the conference.
In 2013, Kim Jong-un was awarded an honorary doctorate in Economics by HELP University, a private Malaysian university.
Pre-2010 Party Conference speculation
Kim Jong-un’s eldest half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, had been the favorite to succeed, but reportedly fell out of favor after 2001, when he was caught attempting to enter Japan on a fake passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland. Kim Jong-nam was killed in Malaysia in 2017 by suspected North Korean agents.
Kim Jong-il’s former personal chef, Kenji Fujimoto, revealed details regarding Kim Jong-un, with whom he had a good relationship, stating that he was favored to be his father’s successor. Fujimoto also said that Jong-un was favored by his father over his elder brother, Kim Jong-chul, reasoning that Jong-chul is too feminine in character, while Jong-un is “exactly like his father”. Furthermore, Fujimoto stated that “If power is to be handed over then Jong-un is the best for it. He has superb physical gifts, is a big drinker and never admits defeat.” Also, according to Fujimoto, Jong-un smokes Yves Saint Laurent cigarettes, loves Johnnie Walker whisky and has a Mercedes-Benz 600 luxury sedan. When Jong-un was 18, Fujimoto described an episode where Jong-un once questioned his lavish lifestyle and asked, “We are here, playing basketball, riding horses, riding jet skis, having fun together. But what of the lives of the average people?” On 15 January 2009 the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that Kim Jong-il had appointed Kim Jong-un to be his successor.
On 8 March 2009, BBC News reported that Kim Jong-un was on the ballot for elections to the Supreme People’s Assembly, the rubber stamp parliament of North Korea. Subsequent reports indicated that his name did not appear on the list of lawmakers, but he was later elevated to a mid-level position in the National Defense Commission, which is a branch of the North Korean military.
From 2009, it was understood by foreign diplomatic services that Kim was to succeed his father Kim Jong-il as the head of the Korean Workers’ Party and de facto leader of North Korea. He has been named “Yŏngmyŏng-han Tongji” (영명한 동지), which loosely translates to “Brilliant Comrade”. His father had also asked embassy staff abroad to pledge loyalty to his son. There have also been reports that citizens in North Korea were encouraged to sing a newly composed “song of praise” to Kim Jong-un, in a similar fashion to that of praise songs relating to Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung. Later, in June, Kim was reported to have visited China secretly to “present himself” to the Chinese leadership, who later warned against North Korea conducting another nuclear test. The Chinese foreign ministry has strongly denied that this visit occurred.
In September 2009, it was reported that Kim Jong-il had secured support for the succession plan, after a propaganda campaign. It is believed by some that Kim Jong-un was involved in the Cheonan sinking and the bombardment of Yeonpyeong to strengthen his military credentials and facilitate a successful transition of power from his father.
Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission
Kim Jong-un was made a daejang, the equivalent of a four-star general in the United States, on 27 September 2010, a day ahead of a rare Workers’ Party of Korea conference in Pyongyang, the first time North Korean media had mentioned him by name and despite his having no previous military experience. Despite the promotion, no further details, including verifiable portraits of Kim, were released. On 28 September 2010, he was named vice chairman of the Central Military Commission and appointed to the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, in an apparent nod to become the successor to Kim Jong-il.
On 10 October 2010, alongside his father, Kim Jong-un attended the ruling Workers’ Party’s 65th anniversary celebration. This was seen as confirming his position as the next leader of the Workers’ Party. Unprecedented international press access was granted to the event, further indicating the importance of Kim Jong-un’s presence. In January 2011, the regime reportedly began purging around 200 protégés of both Jong-un’s uncle-in-law Jang Song-thaek and O Kuk-ryol, the vice chairman of the National Defence Commission, by either detention or execution to further prevent either man from rivaling Jong-un.
Ruler of North Korea
On 17 December 2011, Kim Jong-il died. Despite the elder Kim’s plans, it was not immediately clear after his death whether Jong-un would in fact take full power, and what his exact role in a new government would be. Some analysts had predicted that when Kim Jong-il died, Jang Song-thaek would act as regent, as Jong-un was too inexperienced to immediately lead the country.
Following his father’s death, Kim Jong-un was hailed as the “great successor to the revolutionary cause of Juche”, “outstanding leader of the party, army and people” and “respected comrade who is identical to Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il”, and was made chairman of the Kim Jong-il funeral committee. The Korean Central News Agency described Kim Jong-un as “a great person born of heaven”, a propaganda term only his father and grandfather had enjoyed. And the ruling Workers’ Party said in an editorial, “We vow with bleeding tears to call Kim Jong-un our supreme commander, our leader.”
He was publicly declared Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army on 24 December 2011 and formally appointed to the position on 30 December when the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party “courteously proclaimed that the dear respected Kim Jong Un, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, assumed the supreme commandership of the Korean People’s Army”.
On 26 December 2011, the leading North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported that Kim Jong-un had been acting as chairman of the Central Military Commission, and supreme leader of the country, following his father’s demise.
On 9 January 2012, a large rally was held by Korean People’s Army in front of Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to honor Kim Jong-un and demonstrate loyalty.
In 2013, Forbes named Kim Jong-un the World’s 46th Most Powerful Person.
Assuming official titles
On 27 March 2012, Kim was elected to the Fourth Conference of the Workers’ Party of Korea. On 11 April, that conference elected him as leader of the party under the newly created title of First Secretary. This position replaced the post of general secretary, which was awarded “eternally” to Kim Jong-il. At the conference, Kim Jong-un also took his father’s post as Chairman of the Central Military Commission, as well as his father’s old seat on the Politburo Standing Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. In a speech made prior to the Conference, Kim Jong-un declared that “Imbuing the whole society with Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism is the highest programme of our Party”. On 13 April 2012, the 5th Session of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly appointed Kim Jong-un Chairman of the National Defence Commission.
On 15 April 2012, during a military parade to commemorate Kim Il-sung’s centenary, Kim Jong-un made his first public speech. That speech became the basis of “Onwards Toward the Final Victory”.
In July 2012, Kim Jong-un was promoted to wonsu (roughly translated to marshal), the highest active rank in the military. The decision was jointly issued on by the Central Committee and the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the National Defence Commission, and the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the Korean Central News Agency subsequently announced. The only higher rank is Dae Wonsu (roughly translated as Grand Marshal or Generalissimo) which was held by Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, and which was awarded posthumously to his father, Kim Jong-il, in February 2012. The promotion confirmed Kim’s role as top leader of the North Korean military and came days after the replacement of Chief of General Staff Ri Yong-ho by Hyon Yong-chol.
In November 2012, satellite photos revealed a half-kilometer-long (1,600 ft) propaganda message carved into a hillside in Ryanggang Province, reading, “Long Live General Kim Jong-un, the Shining Sun!”.
Kim Jong-il’s personal chef Kenji Fujimoto stated, “Stores in Pyongyang were brimming with products and people in the streets looked cheerful. North Korea has changed a lot since Kim Jong-un assumed power. All of this is because of leader Kim Jong-un.”
Officially, Kim Jong-un is part of a triumvirate heading the executive branch of the North Korean government along with Premier Pak Pong-ju and parliament chairman Kim Yong-nam (no relation). Each nominally holds powers equivalent to a third of a president’s powers in most other presidential systems. Kim Jong-un commands the armed forces, Pak Pong-ju heads the government, and Kim Yong-nam handles foreign relations. Nevertheless, it is generally understood that Kim Jong-un, like his father and grandfather before him, exercises absolute control over the government and the country. Indeed, a constitutional amendment enacted by his father explicitly named the NDC (first) chairman as “the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea”.
On 30 November 2012, Kim met with Li Jianguo, who “briefed Kim on the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China”, according to the state’s official news agency, the Korean Central News Agency. A letter from Xi Jinping was hand-delivered during the discussion.
In 2013, Kim re-established his grandfather’s style when he made his first New Year’s address, a break from the approach of his father. Kim Jong-il never made televised addresses during his 17 years in power. In lieu of delivering a speech, Kim Jong-il contributed to and approved a New Year’s Day editorial, jointly published by Rodong Sinmun (the daily newspaper of the Korean Workers’ Party), Joson Inmingun (the newspaper of the Korean People’s Army), and Chongnyon Jonwi (the newspaper of the Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League). At the extraordinary meeting with his top defense and security officials on 26 January 2013, Kim issued orders on preparations for a new nuclear test and introduced martial law in North Korea effective from 29 January.
On 9 March 2014, Kim Jong-un was elected to a seat in the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s unicameral legislature. He ran unopposed, but voters had the choice of voting yes or no. There was a record turnout of voters and, according to government officials, all voted “yes” in his home district of Mount Paekdu. The Supreme People’s Assembly subsequently elected him first chairman of the National Defense Commission.
In May 2014, following the collapse of an apartment building in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un was said to be very upset at the loss of life that resulted. A statement issued by the country’s official news agency the Korean Central News Agency used the rare expression “profound consolation and apology”. An unnamed government official was quoted by the BBC as saying Kim Jong-un had “sat up all night, feeling painful”. While the height of the building and the number of casualties was not released, media reports described it is a 23-story building and indicated that more than a hundred people may have died in the collapse.
In August 2012, Kim Jong-un announced economics reforms similar to China’s. Kim began to be mentioned by the North Korean state media as “supreme leader” (chego ryongdoja) at this time.
A set of comprehensive economic measures, the “Socialist Corporate Responsible Management System”, were introduced in 2013. The measures increase the autonomy of enterprises by granting them “certain rights to engage in business activities autonomously and elevate the will to labor through appropriately implementing the socialist distribution system”. Another priority of economic policies that year was agriculture, where the pojon (vegetable garden) responsibility system was implemented. The system reportedly achieved a major increase in output in some collective farms.
North Korean media were describing the economy as a “flexible collectivist system” where enterprises were applying “active and evolutionary actions” to achieve economic development. These reports reflect Kim’s general economic policy of reforming management, increasing the autonomy and incentives for economic actors. This set of reforms known as the “May 30th measures” reaffirms both socialist ownership and “objective economic laws in guidance and management” to improve living standards. Other objectives of the measures are to increase the availability of domestically manufactured goods on markets, introduction of defence innovations into the civilian sector and boost international trade.
North Korea probably does possess a dozen or so nuclear bombs. However, there is no consensus on whether it has acquired intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with nuclear warheads, capable of reaching the United States. It is estimated that North Korea will have sixty nuclear warheads by 2020. North Korea has rockets strong enough to power ICBMs, and, according to the US Defense Intelligence Agency, has nuclear warheads miniaturized enough to be delivered by ICBM, but, according to the South Korean defense department, the ICBMs would not be able to re-enter the atmosphere intact. If North Korea has sufficient nuclear warhead miniaturization technology, its Rodong medium-range missiles could probably launch nuclear strikes as far as Japan.
In December 2015, in a release from the official Korean Central News Agency, Kim announced that his country had developed a hydrogen bomb. Kim’s claim is considered unlikely. Kim stated that his family “turned the DPRK into a powerful nuclear weapons state ready to detonate a self-reliant A-bomb and H-bomb to reliably defend its sovereignty and the dignity of the nation”.
As of 2016, the United Nations has enacted five cumulative rounds of sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear program and missile tests.
Purges and executions
As with all reporting on North Korea, reports of purges and executions are difficult to verify. In May 2016, analysts were surprised to find that General Ri Yong-gil, reported by South Korea to have been executed earlier in the year, was, in fact, alive and well.
In December 2013, Kim Jong-un’s uncle Jang Song-thaek was arrested and executed for treachery Jang is believed to have been executed by firing squad. Yonhap has stated that, according to multiple unnamed sources, Kim Jong-un has also put to death members of Jang’s family, to completely destroy all traces of Jang’s existence through “extensive executions” of his family, including the children and grandchildren of all close relatives. Those reportedly killed in Kim’s purge include Jang’s sister Jang Kye-sun, her husband and ambassador to Cuba, Jon Yong-jin, and Jang’s nephew and ambassador to Malaysia, Jang Yong-chol. The nephew’s two sons were also said to have been killed. At the time of Jang’s removal, it was announced that “the discovery and purge of the Jang group … made our party and revolutionary ranks purer …” and after his execution on 12 December 2013 state media warned that the army “will never pardon all those who disobey the order of the Supreme Commander”.
O Sang-hon (Chosŏn’gŭl: 오상헌; RR: O Sangheon; MR: O Sanghŏn) was a deputy security minister in the Ministry of People’s Security in the government of North Korea who was reportedly killed in a political purge in 2014. According to the Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo, O was executed by flamethrower for his role in supporting Kim Jong-un’s uncle Jang Song-taek.
Human rights violations
The 2013 report on the situation of human rights in North Korea by United Nations Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman proposed a United Nations commission of inquiry to document the accountability of Kim Jong-un and other individuals in the North Korean government for alleged crimes against humanity. The report of the commission of inquiry was published in February 2014 and recommends making him accountable for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.
In July 2016, the United States Department of the Treasury imposed personal sanctions on Kim. Although his involvement in human rights abuses was cited as the reason, officials said the sanctions target the country’s nuclear and missile programs.
Alleged 2017 CIA assassination attempt
In May 2017, the North Korean government claimed that the CIA and the South Korean National Intelligence Service hired a North Korean lumberjack who worked in Russia to assassinate Kim Jong-un with a “biochemical weapon” that was both radioactive and nano-poisonous at the same time and its effect would have been delayed by a few months. North Korea said that it would seek extradition of anyone involved in the assassination attempt.
Kenji Fujimoto, a Japanese chef who used to work as Kim Jong-il’s personal cook, described Kim Jong-un as “a chip off the old block, a spitting image of his father in terms of face, body shape, and personality”.
The Washington Post reported in 2009 that Kim Jong-un’s school friends recalled he “spent hours doing meticulous pencil drawings of Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan”. He was obsessed with basketball and computer games. On 26 February 2013, Kim Jong‑un met Dennis Rodman, leading many reporters to speculate that Rodman was the first American that Kim had met. Rodman described his trip to Kim Jong-un’s private island, “It’s like Hawaii or Ibiza, but he’s the only one that lives there.” Kim Jong-un’s net worth is estimated at US$5 billion.
In July 2012, Kim Jong-un showed a change in cultural policy from his father by attending a Moranbong Band concert. The concert contained several elements of pop culture from the West, particularly the United States. Kim used this event to debut his wife to the public, an unprecedented move in North Korea.
In 2012, Business Insider reported that there were “[s]igns of a rise in luxury goods … creeping out of North Korea since Kim Jong-un took over” and that his “wife Ri Sol-Ju was photographed holding what appeared to be an expensive Dior handbag, worth almost $1,594 – an average year’s salary in North Korea”.[ According to diplomatic sources, “Kim Jong-un likes to drink and party all night like his father and ordered the [imported sauna] equipment to help him beat hangovers and fatigue.” Kim Jong-un is reportedly recruiting young, female companions to form a “pleasure troupe” to entertain him.
During Dennis Rodman’s trip, Vice magazine correspondent Ryan Duffy observed that “the leader was ‘socially awkward’ and didn’t make eye contact when shaking hands”.
According to Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute, Kim Jong-un has greater visible interest in the welfare of his people and engages in greater interaction with them than his father did.
In 2009, reports suggested that Kim Jong-un was a diabetic and suffered from hypertension. He is a smoker.
Kim Jong-un did not appear in public for six weeks in September and October 2014. State media reported that he was suffering from an “uncomfortable physical condition”. Previously he had been seen limpingWhen he reappeared, he was using a walking stick.
In September 2015, the South Korean government commented that Kim appeared to have gained 30 kg in body fat over the previous five years, reaching a total estimated body weight of 130 kg (290 lb).
On 25 July 2012 North Korean state media reported for the first time that Kim Jong-un is married to Ri Sol-ju (리설주). Ri, who appears to be in her early 20s, had been accompanying Kim Jong-un to public appearances for several weeks prior to the announcement. According to a South Korean analyst, Kim Jong-il had hastily arranged the marriage after suffering a stroke in 2008, the two married in 2009, and they had a child in 2010. Dennis Rodman, after visiting in 2013, reported that they had a daughter named Ju-ae. However, South Korean sources speculated that they could have many children.
Kim’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong sometimes accompanies him and is said to be instrumental in creating his public image and organising public events for him.
On 13 February 2017, Kim Jong-nam, the exiled half-brother of Kim Jong-un, was assassinated with the nerve agent VX while walking through Terminal 2 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport