Kim Jong Un

In today's article we are going to talk about Kim Jong Un, a topic that has gained great relevance in recent years. Kim Jong Un is a topic that has aroused the interest of experts and people of all ages, since its impact extends to various areas of society. Throughout this article, we will explore different aspects related to Kim Jong Un, analyzing its history, its influence today and possible future prospects. Furthermore, we will try to offer a global vision that allows the reader to understand the importance of this topic in today's society.

Kim Jong Un
김정은
Kim in 2019
General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea
Assumed office
11 April 2012
Preceded byKim Jong Il
President of the State Affairs of North Korea
Assumed office
29 June 2016
First Vice PresidentChoe Ryong Hae
Vice President
Premier
Preceded byHimself (as First Chairman of the National Defense Commission)
Commander-in-Chief of the Korean People's Army
Assumed office
30 December 2011
Preceded byKim Jong Il
First Chairman of the National Defense Commission
In office
11 April 2012 – 29 June 2016
Vice Chairman
Premier
Preceded byKim Jong Il (as Chairman)
Succeeded byHimself (as President of the State Affairs)
Member of the Supreme People's Assembly
In office
9 April 2009 – 11 April 2019
ConstituencyPaektusan 111
Personal details
Born (1982-01-08) 8 January 1982 (age 42) (per North Korean sources)
Pyongyang, North Korea
Political partyWorkers' Party of Korea
Spouse
(m. 2009)
Children2 unconfirmed,
1 confirmed: Kim Ju-ae
Parents
RelativesKim family
Alma mater
Signature
Military service
AllegianceNorth Korea
Branch/serviceKorean People's Army
Years of service2010–present
RankMarshal of the Republic
Korean name
Chosŏn'gŭl
김정은
Hancha
Revised RomanizationGim Jeong(-)eun
McCune–ReischauerKim Chŏngŭn
IPA[kim.dʑɔŋ.ɯːn]
Central institution membership
  • 2012–present: Member, Presidium of the Political Bureau of the 6th, 7th, 8th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea
  • 2012–present: Member, Political Bureau of the 6th, 7th, 8th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea
  • 2010–present: Member, 6th, 7th, 8th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea

Other offices held
  • 2012–present: Chairman, Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea
  • 2010–2012: Vice Chairman, Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea

Kim Jong Un (English: /ˌkɪm ɒŋˈʊn, -ˈn/; Korean: 김정은; born 8 January 1982, 1983 or 1984) is a North Korean politician who has been supreme leader of North Korea since 2011 and the leader of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) since 2012. He is the third son of Kim Jong Il, who was the second supreme leader of North Korea, and a grandson of Kim Il Sung, the founder and first supreme leader of the country.

From late 2010, Kim was viewed as the successor to the North Korean leadership. Following his father's death in December 2011, state television announced Kim as the "Great Successor". Kim holds the titles of General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and President of the State Affairs. He is also a member of the Presidium of the WPK Politburo, the highest decision-making body in the country. In July 2012, Kim was promoted to the highest rank of Marshal in the Korean People's Army, consolidating his position as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. North Korean state media often refer to him as "Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un" or "Marshal Kim Jong Un". He has promoted the policy of byungjin, similar to Kim Il Sung's policy from the 1960s, referring to the simultaneous development of both the economy and the country's nuclear weapons program. He has also revived the structures of the WPK, expanding the party's power at the expense of the military leadership.

Kim rules North Korea as a totalitarian state, and his leadership has followed the same cult of personality as his father and grandfather. In 2014, a United Nations Human Rights Council report suggested that Kim could be put on trial for crimes against humanity. According to reports, he has ordered the purge and execution of several North Korean officials including his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, in 2013. He is also widely believed to have ordered the assassination of his half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, in Malaysia in 2017. He has presided over an expansion of the consumer economy, construction projects and tourist attractions in North Korea.

Kim expanded the country's nuclear weapons program, which led to heightened tensions with the United States and South Korea, as well as China. In 2018 and 2019, Kim took part in summits with South Korean president Moon Jae-in and US president Donald Trump, leading to a brief thaw between North Korea and the two countries, though the negotiations ultimately broke down without progress on reunification of Korea or nuclear disarmament. He has claimed success in combating the COVID-19 pandemic in North Korea, as the country did not report any confirmed cases until May 2022, although several South Korean observers have questioned this claim.

Early life

North Korean authorities and state-run media have stated that Kim Jong Un was born on 8 January 1982, but South Korean intelligence officials believe that the actual date is a year later, in 1983. The US government lists his birth year as 1984, based on the passport he used while studying in Switzerland. It is thought that Kim's official birth year was changed for symbolic reasons; 1982 marked the seventieth birthday of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, and forty years after the official birth of his father Kim Jong Il.

Kim Jong Un is the second of three children of Ko Yong Hui and 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. He is a grandson of Kim Il Sung, who was the founder of and led North Korea from its establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994. Kim is the first leader of North Korea to have been born a North Korean citizen, his father having been born in the Soviet Union and his grandfather having been born during the Japanese colonial period.

All of Kim Jong Il's children are said to have lived in Switzerland, as well as the mother of the two youngest sons, who lived in Geneva for some time. First reports said that Kim Jong Un attended the private International School of Berne in Gümligen in Switzerland 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, thought to be his bodyguard. His elder brother Kim Jong Chul also attended the school with him.

The Liebefeld-Steinhölzli public school in Köniz, Switzerland, reportedly attended by Kim Jong Un

Later, it was reported that Kim Jong Un attended the Liebefeld Steinhölzli state 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 confirmed that a North Korean student attended the school during that period. Kim 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 Kim's classmates told reporters that he had told him that he was the son of the leader of North Korea. According to some reports, Kim 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 Kim 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, compared the picture of Kim taken at the Liebefeld Steinhölzli school in 1999 with a picture of Kim Jong Un from 2012 and concluded that the faces show a conformity of 95%, suggesting that it is most likely that they are the same person.

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, and was a fan of Jackie Chan action movies.

Most analysts agree that Kim Jong Un attended Kim Il Sung University, a leading officer-training school in Pyongyang, from 2002 to 2007. 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.

In late February 2018, Reuters reported that Kim and his father had used forged passports—supposedly issued by Brazil and dated 26 February 1996—to apply for visas in various countries. Both 10-year passports carry a stamp saying "Embassy of Brazil in Prague". Kim Jong Un's passport records the name "Josef Pwag" and a date of birth of 1 February 1983.

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.

Succession

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 2009 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 "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. 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 him 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, Kim Jong Un was alongside his father when he 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.

Leader of North Korea

People bowing to the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, April 2012
Portraits of Kim Jong Un's father and grandfather (Arirang Festival mass games in Pyongyang)

On 17 December 2011, Kim Jong Il died. Despite the elder Kim's plans, it was not immediately clear after his death whether Kim 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 Kim 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 (KCNA) described Kim Jong Un as "a great person born of heaven", a propaganda term only his father and grandfather had enjoyed. The ruling Workers' Party of Korea also 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 2011 when the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea "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".

North Korean soldiers saluting at the Revolutionary Martyrs' Cemetery in Pyongyang, 2012

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 27 March 2012, Kim was elected to the 4th Conference of the Workers' Party of Korea. On 11 April, that conference wrote the post of general secretary out of the party charter and instead designated Kim Jong Il as the party's "Eternal General Secretary". The conference then elected Kim Jong Un as leader of the party under the newly created title of First Secretary. 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 Presidium. 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 11 April 2012, the 5th Session of the 12th Supreme People's Assembly appointed Kim Jong Un First Chairman of the National Defence Commission.

In July 2012, Kim Jong Un was promoted to wonsu (translated as 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 Taewonsu (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.

External image
image icon Satellite imagery show the message "Long Live General Kim Jong Un, the Shining Sun!" in Korean on a hillside.

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 Defence Commission.

Reforms

Kim has changed North Korea's internal power dynamics, increasing the influence of the WPK while decreasing the power of the military. In May 2016, he organized WPK's 7th Congress in May 2016, its first congress since 1980. In the congress, Kim became the Chairman of the WPK, which replaced the First Secretary of the WPK.

The Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) amended the constitution in June 2016, abolishing the National Defence Commission (NDC) except in times of war, and replacing it with the State Affairs Commission (SAC), which was named the "supreme policy-oriented leadership body of State power". Kim became the chairman of the State Affairs Commission on 29 June 2016. These amendments marked the decrease of the military's influence, with the newly established SAC including more civilian and less military members than the NDC.

During the 2019 North Korean parliamentary election, Kim Jong Un became the first North Korean leader to not participate as a candidate for the SPA. The constitution was further amended in 2019 by the SPA. References to Juche and Songun were replaced by Kimilsungism–Kimjongilism, and the constitution stipulated that the mission of North Korea's armed forces was to "defend unto death the Party Central Committee headed by the great Comrade Kim Jong Un"; this made Kim the first North Korean leader to be named in the constitution while currently holding power. The chairman of the State Affairs Commission was amended to be the "supreme leader who represents the state", effectively making Kim Jong Un the head of state; previously the president of the Presidium of the SPA was the de facto head of state. The chairman also was named as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces as well as the "supreme representative of all the Korean people".

In January 2021, the WPK held its 8th Congress, where Kim delivered a nine-hour-long report in which he admitted failures in carrying out the economic plan and lambasted leading officials' shortcomings. He also praised the country's nuclear capability and addressed the United States as the DPRK's main enemy. Kim Jong Un was elected General Secretary of the WPK, which replaced the WPK Chairman. Previously, the title general secretary was awarded "eternally" to Kim Jong Il in 2012. The congress also saw the WPK reassert its commitment to communism. The Control Commission was abolished, with the Central Auditing Commission taking up its duties. The Congress was also unique in that its backdrop did not include the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il portraits that have normally been put, suggestion a desire for Kim to make his mark on the country's politics.

Under Kim, North Korea has changed the names of several offices and institutions in what has been named by Yonhap News Agency as an effort to present itself as a "normal state". The Ministry of People's Armed Forces was renamed to the Ministry of Defence in January 2021, while state media began referring to Kim as "president of the State Affairs Commission" rather than "chairman" in English language articles starting from February 2021.

The congress marked the consolidation of WPK control over the army, as well as a further decrease in the army's power; the number of military delegates dropped from 719 in the 7th Congress to 408. Politburo members increased from 28 to 30, though incumbent military elite membership decreased from eight to six. The influence of the KPA Party Committee and the General Political Bureau (GPB) was decreased; with the committee's ranking now equal to provincial party committees, while it was above them previously. The GPB was also no longer equal to the Central Committee, while the Central Military Commission was given effective command of the armed forces. "Military-first policy" was also removed from the charter, being replaced by "people-first politics".

In November 2021, the South Korean National Intelligence Service reported that the North Korean government has begun using the term "Kimjongunism", in an effort to establish an independent ideological system centered on Kim. Analyst Ken Gause described this as Kim "now ready to put his stamp firmly on the regime".

Role in government

According to the North Korean constitution, Kim Jong Un is part of a triumvirate heading the executive branch of the North Korean government along with Premier Kim Tok Hun and Supreme People's Assembly president Choe Ryong Hae. Kim Jong Un commands the armed forces, Kim Tok Hun heads the cabinet and handles domestic affairs, and Choe Ryong Hae heads the legislature. However, under the constitution, Kim Jong Un is the highest-ranking of the three, with the constitution explicitly naming his post the "supreme leader who represents the state". Since 1998, the NDC chairmanship has been constitutionally defined as "the highest post in the state", and a constitutional amendment enacted by the regime explicitly named the NDC (first) chairman as "the supreme leader of the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea". However, analysts are divided about how much actual power Kim has.

Leadership style

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 introduce his wife to the public, an unprecedented move in North Korea. In the same year, Kim Jong Il's personal chef Kenji Fujimoto visited North Korea and said, "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."

According to analysts, Kim Jong Un has used his resemblance to his grandfather to harness Kim Il Sung's personality cult and popular nostalgia for earlier times. In 2013, Kim copied his grandfather's style when he gave his first New Year's address, a break from the approach of his father, Kim Jong Il, who never made a televised address during his 17 years in power. He has also appeared more accessible and open than his father, hugging and linking arms with young and old. In his public appearances, he appears more active than his father or grandfather, for example, weeding, riding a horse, driving a tank, riding a rollercoaster, or using information technology.

People in Pyongyang watch Kim Jong Un on North Korean TV, 2015

In April 2012, when a satellite launch failed, the government admitted this publicly, the first time it had ever done so. 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 as a 23-story building and indicated that more than a hundred people may have died in the collapse.

Cult of personality

Kim Jong Un frequently performs symbolic acts that associate him with the personality cult of his father and grandfather. Like them, Kim Jong Un regularly tours the country, giving "on-the-spot guidance" at various sites. North Korean state media often refers to him as "Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un" or "Marshal Kim Jong Un".

On 9 January 2012, a large rally was held by the Korean People's Army in front of the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to honor Kim Jong Un and to demonstrate loyalty.

A selection of Kim Jong Un's works, translated to different languages

On 15 April 2012, during a military parade to commemorate Kim Il Sung's centenary, Kim Jong Un made his first public speech, Let Us March Forward Dynamically Towards Final Victory, Holding Higher the Banner of Songun. That speech became the basis of a hymn dedicated to him, "Onwards Toward the Final Victory".

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!"

Economic policies

Kim Jong Un has been promoting a policy of byungjin, similar to his grandfather Kim il Sung's policies from the 1960s, developing the national economy in parallel with the country's nuclear weapons program. 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 described 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.

There has been a construction boom in Pyongyang, bringing colour and creative architectural styles to the city. While in the past there was a concentration on building monuments, Kim Jong Un's government has constructed amusement parks, aquatic parks, skating rinks, a dolphinarium and a ski resort. Kim has been actively promoting a consumer culture, including entertainment and cosmetics. He has also overseen the construction of tourist attractions in the country.

Kim has attempted to ease North Korea's food shortages, though the food situation deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2023, during a WPK plenary session, he called for boosting agricultural production, saying that it is "important to concentrate on increasing the yield at all the farms".

Purges and executions

As with all reporting on North Korea, reports of purges and executions are difficult to verify. Allegations in 2013 that Kim Jong Un had his ex-girlfriend, singer Hyon Song Wol, executed for violating pornography laws turned out to be false. 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 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 South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo, O was executed by flamethrower for his role in supporting Kim Jong Un's uncle Jang Song Thaek.

Human rights violations

Similar to his father and grandfather, Kim rules North Korea as a totalitarian state. In January 2013, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that the North Korean human rights situation had not improved since Kim had taken power and called for an investigation. A report on the situation of human rights in North Korea in February 2013 by United Nations Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman proposed a UN commission of inquiry. The report of the commission of inquiry was published in February 2014 and suggested Kim could "possibly" be made 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. In June 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump condemned Kim Jong Un's "brutal" regime and described Kim as a "madman" after the death of American student Otto Warmbier who had been imprisoned during a visit to North Korea. However, in 2019, President Trump said that he believed Kim was not responsible for Warmbier's death.

Alleged assassination attempts

In 2012, a machine gun was discovered beneath a juniper tree in Ryugyeongwon, located near a route that Kim was going to travel. It was assumed this was part of an assassination attempt.

In May 2017, the North Korean government stated that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States and the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) hired a North Korean lumberjack who worked in Russia to assassinate Kim with a "biochemical weapon" that was both radioactive and nano-poisonous, and whose effect would have been delayed by a few months. North Korea said that it would seek extradition of anyone involved in the assassination attempt.

Nuclear weapons development

Model of an Unha-9 rocket on display at a floral exhibition in Pyongyang, 30 August 2013

Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea has continued to develop nuclear weapons, testing bombs in February 2013, January and September 2016, and September 2017. As of 2021, North Korea had tested nearly 120 missiles, four times more than in the time of his father and grandfather. By 2023, this climbed up to a total of 226. According to several analysts, North Korea sees the nuclear arsenal as vital to deter an attack, and it is unlikely that North Korea would launch a nuclear war. According to a RAND Corporation senior researcher, Kim Jong Un believes that nuclear weapons are his guarantee of regime survival. In 2022, it was estimated that North Korea has around 45-55 nuclear weapons.

In 2012, on the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birth, he said, "the days are gone forever when our enemies could blackmail us with nuclear bombs". At a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party held on 31 March 2013, he announced that North Korea would adopt "a new strategic line on carrying out economic construction and building nuclear armed forces simultaneously".

During the 7th WPK Congress in 2016, Kim Jong Un stated that North Korea would "not use nuclear weapons first unless aggressive hostile forces use nuclear weapons to invade on our sovereignty". However, on other occasions, North Korea has threatened "pre-emptive" nuclear attacks against a US-led attack. In December 2015, 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".

In his New Year's Day speech on 2 January 2017, Kim Jong Un said that the country was in the "last stage" of preparations to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). On 4 July, North Korea conducted the first publicly announced flight test of its ICBM Hwasong-14, timed to coincide with the U.S. Independence Day celebrations. On 3 September, the country conducted its sixth nuclear test. On 28 November 2017, North Korea tested the Hwasong-15 missile, which became the first ballistic missile developed by North Korea that is theoretically capable of reaching all of the US mainland. In response, the United Nations Security Council enacted a series of sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear program and missile tests.

Until 2022, North Korea's stated policy position was that nuclear weapons "will never be abused or used as a means for preemptive strike", but if there is an "attempt to have recourse to military force against us" North Korea may use their "most powerful offensive strength in advance to punish them". This was not a full no first use policy. This policy changed in 2022 with a law approved by the Supreme People's Assembly, which states that in the case of an attack against the top leadership or the nuclear command and control system, nuclear attacks against the enemy would be launched automatically. Additionally, the new law indicates that if Kim Jong Un was killed, the authorization of nuclear strikes would pass to a senior official.

Foreign relations

China

Relations between North Korea and China, long North Korea's closest partner, initially deteriorated under Kim due to his nuclear weapons program. On 30 November 2012, Kim met with Li Jianguo, member of the Politburo of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) and first-ranking vice chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, 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 Chinese president Xi Jinping was hand-delivered during the discussion.

China condemned North Korea's nuclear tests in 2013, 2016, and 2017 China also banned imports of North Korean coal in February 2017, while enforcing UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea put in 2017. In response, the Korean Central News Agency published an unprecedented criticism of China, accusing it of "big-power chauvinism"; KCNA later published articles criticizing Chinese state-media.

The relationship started improving in March 2018, when Kim visited Beijing, meeting with Xi Jinping, marking his first foreign trip since assuming power. From 7–8 May, Kim made a second visit to China, meeting with Xi in Dalian. A further third meeting happened on 19–20 June, when Kim travelled to Beijing to meet Xi. Kim again met Xi in Beijing on 7–10 January 2019. On 20–21 June 2019, Xi travelled to Pyongyang, the first visit by a Chinese leader to North Korea since Hu Jintao visited in 2005.

South Korea and the United States

In his 2018 New Year Speech, Kim announced that he was open to dialogue with South Korea with a view to take part in the upcoming Winter Olympics in the South. The Seoul–Pyongyang hotline was reopened after almost two years. North and South Korea marched together in the Olympics opening ceremony, and fielded a united women's ice hockey team. In addition to the athletes, Kim sent an unprecedented high-level delegation including his sister, Kim Yo Jong, and President of the Presidium, Kim Yong Nam, and performers such as the Samjiyon Orchestra. On 5 March, he had a meeting with South Korea's Chief of the National Security Office, Chung Eui Yong, in Pyongyang.

Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in shake hands during the 2018 inter-Korean Summit, April 2018

At the April 2018 inter-Korean summit, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in signed the Panmunjom Declaration, pledging to convert the Korean Armistice Agreement into a full peace treaty, formally ending the Korean War, by the end of the year.

On 26 May, Kim had a second and unannounced meeting in the North Korean side of Panmunjom, meeting with Moon to discuss his proposed summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore.

Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands at the start of the 2018 North Korea–United States Summit, June 2018

On 10 June, Kim arrived in Singapore and met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. On 12 June, Kim held his first summit with Trump and signed a declaration, affirming a commitment to peace, nuclear disarmament, and the repatriation of the remains of U.S. war dead. This marked the first-ever meeting between leaders of North Korea and the United States.

In September, Kim held another summit with Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang. Kim agreed to dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons facilities if the United States took reciprocal action. The two governments also announced that they would establish buffer zones on their borders to prevent clashes.

In February 2019, Kim held another summit with Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, which Trump cut short on the second day without an agreement. The Trump administration said that the North Koreans wanted complete sanctions relief, while the North Koreans said that they were only asking for partial sanctions relief.

On 30 June 2019, in the Korean DMZ, Kim again met with Trump, shaking hands warmly and expressing hope for peace. Kim and Trump then joined Moon Jae-in for a brief chat. Talks in Stockholm began on 5 October 2019 between US and North Korean negotiating teams but broke down after one day. During this period, Trump and Kim established a personal relationship and exchanged at least 27 letters in which the two men described a warm personal friendship.

However, by 2020, negotiations almost completely stalled without progress on denuclearization, with both Trump and Kim focusing on domestic issues. North Korean foreign ministry further criticized the Trump administration that year for "empty promise", and further took action by demolishing the four-story joint-liaison office building it shared with South Korea on 17 June. North Korea further ignored attempts at outreach by the administration of president Joe Biden, and Kim said in October 2021 that the "US has been frequently sending signals that they are not hostile towards our country, but there is no single evidence that they are not hostile", and also criticized South Korea for "destroying the military balance in the Korean peninsula and increasing military instability and danger".

In December 2023, during a speech at the 9th plenum of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, Kim called for a "fundamental turnabout" in North Korea's stance towards South Korea, calling the South the "enemy". He stated "the party’s comprehensive conclusion after reviewing decades-long inter-Korean relations is that reunification can never be achieved with those ROK riffraffs that defined the ‘unification by absorption’ and ‘unification under liberal democracy’ as their state policy", which he said is in "sharp contradiction with what our line of national reunification was: one nation, one state with two systems".

Kim cited South Korean constitution's claims over the entire Korean Peninsula and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol's policy towards the north as evidence that South Korea is an unsuitable partner for reunification. He said the relations between the two Koreas currently were "states hostile to each other and the relations between two belligerent states" and no longer ones that are "consanguineous or homogeneous", continuing by saying it is "unsuitable" to discuss the issue of reunification "with this strange clan , who is no more than a colonial stooge of the U.S. despite the rhetorical word — ‘the fellow countrymen." Kim also instructed the WPK on reforming organizations related to inter-Korean relations, including the WPK's United Front Department.

Russia

Kim meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the North Korea–Russia Summit, April 2019

On 25 April 2019, Kim held his first summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok, Russia.

North Korea under Kim supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022, blaming the "hegemonic policy" of the US for the war, recognizing the independence of the breakaway states of Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics in Eastern Ukraine as well as recognizing Russia's unilateral annexation of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts on 30 September. In September 2022, US intelligence said that Russia was buying millions of artillery shells and rockets from North Korea due to the sanctions caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. A February 2023 report by the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) stated that after dropping to nearly zero during the COVID-19 era, trade between North Korea and Russia rebounded back to pre-pandemic levels.

Kim with Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu in Pyongyang, 27 July 2023

In July 2023, Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu and a Chinese delegation led by Communist Party Politburo member Li Hongzhong arrived in North Korea for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War. Shoigu met with Kim Jong Un and North Korean Defense Minister Kang Sun Nam.

Kim with Vladimir Putin at Vostochny Cosmodrome

In September 2023, Kim Jong Un visited Russia in his first foreign trip since 2019. The meeting lasted over four hours at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amur Oblast, and was described as underpinning how the two countries' interests are aligning. During the meeting, Kim once again gave his support for Russia’s “sacred fight” against the west, expressing his “...support for all the measures taken by the Russian government, and takes this opportunity again to affirm that will always be with Russia." When asked if Russia would help North Korea build satellites, presumably in return for ammunition, Putin said “that’s why came here."

According to the NIS, North Korea has exported over one million shells to Russia since August 2023, compared to a combined 2 million shells provided by NATO members to Ukraine since the start of the Russo-Ukrainian War.

In February 2024 Kim received a car as a gift from Putin. Four months later Putin arrived in Pyongyang and held talks with Kim. It was Putin's second visit to North Korea, since 2000. Both sides signed the Treaty on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation as an agreement of close mutual defence corporation and militant friendship.

COVID-19 pandemic

During 2020, Kim claimed success in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic in North Korea, after putting the country in isolation and limiting public gatherings.

In April 2020, a three-week absence from public view led to speculation that Kim was seriously ill or dead, but no clear evidence of any health problem came to light. He appeared rarely in public over the following months, possibly because of health problems or the risk of COVID-19. In August, it was reported that Kim had ceded a degree of authority to his sister, Kim Yo Jong, giving her responsibility for relations with South Korea and the United States and making her his de facto second-in-command.

On 5 September 2020, Kim toured the areas hit by Typhoon Maysak. He also replaced the local provincial party committee chairman and ordered Pyongyang officials to lead a recovery effort. His ruling party also pledged harsh punishment for the city and provincial officials, stating that they failed to protect the residents from the disaster. Kim fired Kim Song Il, who was chairman of the South Hamgyong Province Workers' Party of Korea Committee.

In January 2022, a North Korean KCTV documentary, "2021, A Great Victorious Year", was released, which appeared to address Kim's sudden weight loss and infrequent public appearances. It said that Kim's body had "completely withered away" as he "suffered" for the people during 2021, completing tasks hitherto unpublicized while North Korea faced "challenges" and "worst-ever hardships".

North Korea claimed to have detected no cases of COVID-19 until May 2022, although several South Korean academics doubt this claim, pointing to restrictions and economic data. In May 2022, North Korea announced that its first COVID-19 outbreak had started in April. In a meeting with the WPK, Kim ordered "all the cities and counties of the whole country to thoroughly lock down", and called for the mobilization of emergency reserve medical supplies. In the days that followed the country's announcement, hundreds of thousands of new cases of fevers were reported, as well as 27 related deaths related to fever of unidentified origins, among which one death was confirmed as from the Omicron variant according to state-media KCNA. Kim spoke further at a subsequent WPK meeting, stating that the virus had brought “great turmoil” to his country, and urged the party and people to remain unified and organized in their efforts to combat the virus. Kim went on to blame the crisis on incompetence and irresponsibility on the part of the party organizations, and also cast blame on “negligence including drug overdose due to lack of knowledge of treatment methods” as the reason for most of the deaths since the outbreak. As part of the country’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Kim stated that he looked to learn from the response mounted by China. By the end of May, North Korean state media reported the COVID-19 outbreak was "controlled and improved across the country" following a re-evaluation by Kim and the WPK. In August 2022, Kim Yo Jong indicated that Jong Un had contracted the virus.

Personal life

Personality

Kenji Fujimoto, a Japanese chef who was 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". Kim is a fan of basketball, and his favorite teams include the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers.

On 26 February 2013, Kim Jong Un met Dennis Rodman, which led many reporters to speculate that Rodman was the first American whom Kim had met. During Rodman's trip, Vice magazine correspondent Ryan Duffy said that Kim was "socially awkward" and avoided eye contact.

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.

South Koreans who saw Kim at the summit in April 2018 described him as straightforward, humorous, and attentive. After meeting him, Donald Trump said, "I learned he was a talented man. I also learned he loves his country very much." He added that Kim had a "great personality" and was "very smart".

Public image

Forbes magazine ranked Kim as the 36th most powerful person in the world in 2018, the highest amongst Koreans.

In a 2013 poll, 61.7% of North Korean defectors in South Korea said that Kim Jong Un was probably supported by most of his countrymen, an increase from the 55.7% approval rating for his father in a similar survey done two years earlier.

The nickname "Kim Fatty III" (Chinese: 金三胖; pinyin: Jīn Sān Pàng) began trending among Chinese users of the websites Baidu and Sina Weibo in late 2016. In response, the North Korean government successfully petitioned the Chinese government to censor the nickname on all Chinese websites.

In a poll of South Koreans conducted following the May 2018 inter-Korean summit, 78% of respondents said they trusted Kim, compared with 10% approval a couple months prior.

Wealth

The International Business Times reported Kim to have 17 luxury palaces around North Korea, a fleet of 100 (mostly European) luxury cars, a private jet, and a 100-foot (30 m) yacht. Rodman described his trip to a private island owned by Kim Jong Un: "It's like Hawaii, Ibiza, or Aruba but he's the only one that lives there."

In 2012, Business Insider reported that there were "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 equipment to help him beat hangovers and fatigue."

In 2018, Kim reportedly received delivery of two armored Mercedes-Maybach S600s, each valued at $500,000, through an illicit shipping network in violation of international sanctions.

Health

In 2009, reports suggested that Kim Jong Un was a diabetic and suffered from hypertension. Like his grandfather and father, he is also known to smoke cigarettes.

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 limping. When he reappeared, he was using a walking stick.

In September 2015, the South Korean government commented that Kim appeared to have gained 30 kg (66 lb) in body mass over the previous five years, reaching an estimated weight of 130 kg (290 lb).

In April 2020, Kim was not seen in public for 20 days, leading to rumours that he was critically ill or dead. In June 2021, following a one-month-long absence from the public eye, outside observers noted that Kim had lost a considerable amount of weight. It was speculated that he had lost 10 to 20 kg (22 to 44 lb).

Family

Kim (holding envelope) with Chung Eui-yong. Kim's sister Kim Yo Jong (on the right) is said to be very close to him.

On 25 July 2012, North Korean state media reported for the first time that Kim Jong Un was married to Ri Sol Ju. Ri, who was believed 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 son in 2010. Dennis Rodman, after visiting in 2013, reported that they had a second newborn child, a daughter named Ju Ae. According to South Korean intelligence sources, the couple is believed to have had a third child, a daughter, in February 2017.

On 18 November 2022, Kim Jong Un was seen reviewing key military arsenals with his daughter Ju Ae. The two were seen together again at a gathering with missile scientists later in the same month. She has since routinely accompanied him.

Kim is sometimes accompanied by his younger sister Kim Yo Jong, who is said to be instrumental in creating his public image and organising public events for him. According to Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, and others, the promotion of Yo Jong and others is a sign that "the Kim Jong Un regime has ended its co-existence with the remnants of the previous Kim Jong Il regime by carrying out a generational replacement in the party's key elite posts".

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. Kim Jong Un is widely believed to have ordered the assassination.


Awards and honors

Notes

  1. ^ Kim Jong Un held the same position under the title of "First Secretary" from 11 April 2012 until 9 May 2016 and "Chairman" from 9 May 2016 until 10 January 2021.
  2. ^ 정은 is pronounced [tsɔŋ.ɯn] in isolation.
  3. ^ Also transcribed Kim Jong-un
  4. ^ Korean김정은; MRKim Chŏngŭn
  5. ^ North Korean sources give Kim's birth date as 8 January 1982. For other birth years found in sources, see § Early life.
  6. ^ As the leader of the Workers' Party of Korea, Kim held the titles of First Secretary from 2012 to 2016, Chairman from 2016 to 2021, and General Secretary since 2021.

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Party political offices
Preceded by General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea
First Secretary: 2012–2016
Chairman: 2016–2021

2012–present
Incumbent
Chairman of the Central Military Commission
Acting: 2011–2012

2012–present
New office Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission
2010–2012
Served alongside: Ri Yong-ho
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by President of the State Affairs Commission
National Defence Commission: 2012–2016

2012–present
Incumbent
Military offices
Preceded by Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of North Korea
Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army: 2011–2019

2011–present
Incumbent