The Leadership of Kim Jong-un: A Comprehensive Analysis
Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, has been a subject of fascination and scrutiny since assuming power in 2011. His leadership style, policies, and international relations have been topics of intense debate and speculation. In this comprehensive analysis, we delve into various aspects of Kim Jong-un’s leadership, ranging from his background and rise to power to his governance strategies and impact on the global stage.
Rise to Power and Background
North Korean authorities and state-run media claim that Kim Jong-Un was born on January 8, 1982, but South Korean intelligence officials suggest his actual birth year may be 1983 or 1984. Speculation arises from symbolic reasons, with his official birth year possibly altered to coincide with significant events in North Korean history.
Kim Jong-Un is the second of three children of Ko Yong Hui and Kim Jong Il, with an elder brother, Kim Jong Chul, born in 1981, and a younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, believed to be born in 1987. He is a grandson of Kim Il Sung, the founder and leader of North Korea until his death in 1994.
Reports indicate that Kim Jong-Un spent part of his childhood in Switzerland, attending schools under pseudonyms. Initially, he was reported to have attended the International School of Berne in Gümligen, described as a shy but academically proficient student and a basketball enthusiast.
Later, Kim Jong-Un reportedly attended the Liebefeld Steinhölzli state school in Köniz, near Bern, under the name “Pak-un” or “Un-pak” from 1998 to 2000. Described as well-integrated but with poor academic performance, he left abruptly in 2000. Despite academic struggles, he demonstrated a keen interest in basketball, computer games, and Jackie Chan movies.
In 2012, new documents suggested that Kim Jong-Un had lived in Switzerland since 1991 or 1992, earlier than previously believed. The University of Lyon’s Laboratory of Anatomic Anthropology conducted facial analysis, indicating a 95% conformity between Kim’s school photo from 1999 and images of Kim Jong-Un from 2012.
Most analysts agree that Kim Jong-Un attended Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang from 2002 to 2007, obtaining degrees in physics and military science. However, reports have emerged suggesting the use of forged passports, possibly to apply for visas in various countries.
For many years, only one confirmed photograph of Kim Jong-Un existed outside North Korea, taken in the mid-1990s. More images surfaced in 2010, coinciding with his official introduction to the North Korean people.
Pre-2010 Party Conference Speculation
Before the 2010 Party Conference, speculation regarding Kim Jong-Un’s succession was rife. Initially, his eldest half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, was considered the favorite to succeed. However, Kim Jong Nam fell out of favor after a 2001 incident where he was caught attempting to enter Japan on a fake passport. His subsequent assassination in Malaysia in 2017 further solidified Kim Jong-Un’s position as the heir apparent.
Revelations from Kim Jong Il’s former personal chef, Kenji Fujimoto, shed light on Kim Jong-Un’s favored status as his father’s successor. Fujimoto described Kim Jong-Un as physically gifted, charismatic, and favored by his father over his elder brother, Kim Jong Chul. These insights provided a glimpse into Kim Jong-Un’s personality and lifestyle preferences, including his fondness for luxury goods such as Yves Saint Laurent cigarettes and Johnnie Walker whisky.
Kim Jong-Un’s rise to power became more apparent in 2009 when he was appointed to various key positions within the Korean Workers’ Party and the military. He was groomed for leadership through a propaganda campaign, earning titles such as “Brilliant Comrade” and securing support for his succession plan. Kim Jong-Un’s involvement in military actions, such as the Cheonan sinking and the bombardment of Yeonpyeong, aimed to bolster his military credentials and pave the way for a smooth transition of power.
Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission
Kim Jong-Un’s elevation to a four-star general in September 2010 marked a significant step towards his succession. Despite lacking prior military experience, he was appointed as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission and gained prominence within the Workers’ Party. His presence alongside his father at key events further solidified his status as the next leader of North Korea.
Following Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011, Kim Jong-Un assumed leadership roles within the party and the military. He was hailed as the “great successor” and “supreme commander” of the Korean People’s Army, cementing his position as the leader of North Korea. Despite initial uncertainties about his ability to lead, Kim Jong-Un quickly consolidated power and assumed key positions within the government and the military.
Kim Jong-Un’s rapid rise to power culminated in his appointment as First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and Chairman of the National Defence Commission in April 2012. He was also promoted to the highest military rank of marshal, further underscoring his authority as the top leader of North Korea.
In subsequent years, Kim Jong-Un continued to solidify his leadership through political and military appointments, culminating in his election to the Supreme People’s Assembly in 2014. His unopposed election and unanimous support from voters reaffirmed his position as the supreme leader of North Korea.
Marriage and Children
Kim Jong Un married Ri Sol Ju on 25 July 2012, as reported by North Korean state media. Ri Sol Ju, believed to be in her early 20s at the time of the announcement, had been accompanying Kim Jong Un to public appearances prior to their marriage. According to South Korean analysts, the marriage was arranged hastily after Kim Jong Il’s stroke in 2008, with the couple marrying in 2009. They are reported to have a son born in 2010 and a daughter named Ju Ae, born around 2013. South Korean intelligence sources also suggest that the couple had a third child, another daughter, born in February 2017.
In November 2022, Kim Jong Un was seen reviewing military arsenals with his daughter Ju Ae, indicating her growing presence in public events alongside her father.
Kim Jong Un is occasionally accompanied by his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, who is believed to play a significant role in shaping his public image and organizing public events. Analysts view the promotion of Kim Yo Jong and others as a generational replacement within the party’s key elite posts, signaling a transition away from the remnants of the previous Kim Jong Il regime.
Kim Jong Nam
Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Un’s exiled half-brother, was assassinated on 13 February 2017, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. He was attacked with the nerve agent VX, with widespread belief that Kim Jong Un ordered the assassination.
Relationship towards Women
Kim Jong Un established his own “pleasure brigade,” known as the Kippumjo, consisting of approximately 2,000 women, following the disbandment of a similar group under his father’s rule. Defectors have reported how schools are scouted for potential candidates to serve Kim Jong Un and the party for entertainment and other purposes.
Kim Jong-Un has implemented significant reforms within North Korea, reshaping internal power dynamics and consolidating control over key institutions.
In May 2016, Kim orchestrated the Workers’ Party of Korea’s 7th Congress, marking the first such congress since 1980. During this congress, Kim assumed the role of Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, a position that replaced the previous First Secretary title.
Subsequent amendments to the constitution in June 2016 saw the abolition of the National Defence Commission (NDC) and the establishment of the State Affairs Commission (SAC) as the supreme policy-oriented leadership body of State power. Kim Jong-Un was appointed as the chairman of the State Affairs Commission, signaling a shift away from military dominance towards civilian leadership.
The 2019 North Korean parliamentary election witnessed Kim Jong-Un abstaining from participation as a candidate for the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), a departure from previous norms. Constitutional amendments in 2019 further solidified Kim’s position by replacing references to Juche and Songun with Kimilsungism–Kimjongilism. The amended constitution named Kim Jong-Un as the supreme leader who represents the state, effectively making him the head of state and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
The 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea in January 2021 marked another milestone in Kim’s leadership. He delivered a lengthy report acknowledging economic shortcomings while reaffirming the country’s nuclear capabilities. Kim Jong-Un was elected as General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, a title previously held “eternally” by Kim Jong Il since 2012. The congress also underscored the party’s commitment to communism while streamlining government structures.
Under Kim’s leadership, North Korea has undertaken efforts to present itself as a “normal state” by renaming offices and institutions. In January 2021, the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces was renamed the Ministry of Defence, signaling a shift in rhetoric. Additionally, state media began referring to Kim as “president of the State Affairs Commission” rather than “chairman,” reflecting evolving political terminology.
These reforms have consolidated the Workers’ Party’s control over the military and reduced the military’s influence in government affairs. The changes also reflect Kim’s efforts to modernize North Korea’s image and strengthen his grip on power.
Role in Government
According to the North Korean constitution, Kim Jong-Un forms part of a triumvirate alongside Premier Kim Tok Hun and Supreme People’s Assembly president Choe Ryong Hae, collectively heading the executive branch. While Kim Jong-Un commands the armed forces and represents the state as the supreme leader, Kim Tok Hun oversees domestic affairs, and Choe Ryong Hae leads the legislature. Despite the constitutional framework, Kim Jong-Un holds the highest-ranking position, reflecting his overarching authority in the North Korean government.
Style of Leadership
Kim Jong-Un’s leadership style has exhibited a departure from his predecessors, embracing elements of pop culture and projecting a more accessible persona. His attendance at a Moranbong Band concert in 2012, featuring Western influences, signaled a shift in cultural policy. Kim’s public appearances alongside his wife and participation in various activities portray a more relatable image compared to previous leaders.
Analysts note Kim Jong-Un’s strategic emulation of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, leveraging nostalgia and personality cult to bolster his legitimacy. His televised New Year’s addresses and public engagements underscore a departure from his father’s reclusive approach, fostering a more dynamic and visible leadership persona.
Moreover, Kim Jong-Un’s handling of public crises, such as the admission of a failed satellite launch in 2012 and expressions of remorse following a building collapse in 2014, signal a willingness to acknowledge shortcomings and express empathy, portraying a more humanizing aspect of his leadership.
Kim Jong-Un actively cultivates a personality cult akin to that of his father and grandfather, regularly conducting symbolic acts and receiving adulation from state media.
Like his predecessors, Kim Jong-Un frequently tours the country, providing “on-the-spot guidance” at various sites. State media often refers to him as “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un” or “Marshal Kim Jong Un”.
On 9 January 2012, the Korean People’s Army held a large rally in front of the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to honor Kim Jong-Un, demonstrating unwavering loyalty to his leadership.
During a military parade in April 2012 commemorating Kim Il Sung’s centenary, Kim Jong-Un delivered his first public speech, which later became the basis of a hymn dedicated to him, further cementing his status within the personality cult.
In November 2012, satellite photos revealed a massive propaganda message carved into a hillside in Ryanggang Province, proclaiming “Long Live General Kim Jong Un, the Shining Sun”!
Kim Jong-Un has pursued a policy of byungjin, aiming to develop the national economy alongside the country’s nuclear program, reminiscent of his grandfather Kim Il Sung’s policies from the 1960s.
In 2013, Kim introduced the “Socialist Corporate Responsible Management System,” granting enterprises increased autonomy to engage in business activities and implementing agricultural reforms, such as the pojon responsibility system.
North Korean media portrays the economy as a “flexible collectivist system” focused on reforming management and enhancing economic actors’ autonomy and incentives. Kim’s economic reforms, known as the “May 30th measures,” aim to improve living standards, boost international trade, and increase domestic production.
Under Kim’s leadership, Pyongyang has witnessed a construction boom, with a focus on developing entertainment facilities, amusement parks, and tourist attractions to promote consumer culture and boost the economy.
Purges and Executions
Kim Jong-Un’s regime has been marked by purges and executions of high-ranking officials, though reports are challenging to verify.
In December 2013, Kim’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, was arrested and executed for treachery, along with members of his family, including children and grandchildren.
Allegations of executions, such as that of O Sang Hon in 2014, underscore Kim’s ruthless consolidation of power and removal of perceived threats to his authority.
Human Rights Violations
Kim Jong-Un governs North Korea as a totalitarian state, continuing the oppressive regime established by his predecessors.
The United Nations and human rights organizations have condemned North Korea’s human rights abuses, with reports suggesting Kim could be held accountable for crimes against humanity.
In response to Kim’s regime, the United States and other countries have imposed sanctions targeting North Korea’s nuclear program and human rights abuses.
Alleged Assassination Attempts
North Korea has accused the United States and South Korea of attempting to assassinate Kim Jong-Un using unconventional methods, such as biochemical weapons.
In 2012, a machine gun was discovered near a route Kim was scheduled to travel, sparking speculation of an assassination attempt.
In May 2017, North Korea alleged that the CIA and South Korean intelligence had plotted to assassinate Kim using a radioactive and nano-poisonous biochemical weapon, further heightening tensions between the countries.
Nuclear Weapons Development
Under Kim Jong-Un’s leadership, North Korea has continued to pursue the development of nuclear weapons, conducting multiple tests since 2013, including bombs in February 2013, January and September 2016, and September 2017. As of 2021, North Korea had conducted nearly 120 missile tests, significantly more than during the reigns of his father and grandfather, with the number reaching 226 by 2023.
North Korea views its nuclear arsenal as essential for deterring potential attacks, with Kim Jong-Un reportedly considering nuclear weapons as crucial for the regime’s survival. By 2022, estimates suggested that North Korea possessed around 45-55 nuclear weapons.
Kim Jong-Un announced a new strategic line in 2013, emphasizing the simultaneous development of the economy and nuclear armed forces. Despite stating that North Korea would not use nuclear weapons first, the country has threatened pre-emptive nuclear attacks in response to perceived threats.
In 2022, a change in policy was enacted, allowing for automatic nuclear strikes in the event of an attack on the top leadership or the nuclear command and control system, with authorization potentially passing to a senior official in the event of Kim Jong-Un’s death.
Relations between North Korea and China initially strained due to Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear weapons program. However, ties improved following Kim’s visits to Beijing, where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Despite tensions, the relationship between the two countries has seen periods of warming, with high-level meetings and exchanges.
South Korea and the United States
Kim Jong-Un’s leadership has seen significant developments in relations with South Korea and the United States. Following a period of heightened tensions, Kim initiated dialogue with South Korea, leading to the participation of North Korean athletes in the 2018 Winter Olympics and inter-Korean summits.
The historic summit between Kim Jong-Un and US President Donald Trump in 2018 marked the first-ever meeting between leaders of North Korea and the United States. While initial talks showed promise, subsequent negotiations stalled, with no significant progress on denuclearization.
Efforts to restart dialogue between North Korea and the United States faltered, with Kim Jong-Un criticizing the Trump administration for empty promises. Despite initial optimism, relations between the two countries soured, and North Korea ignored outreach attempts by the Biden administration.
In December 2023, Kim Jong-Un called for a fundamental shift in North Korea’s stance towards South Korea, labeling the South as the “enemy” and criticizing its policy towards the North. He emphasized the need to reassess inter-Korean relations and instructed the Workers’ Party of Korea to reform organizations related to inter-Korean relations.
Kim Jong-Un has engaged in diplomatic efforts with Russia during his tenure. In April 2019, he held his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok, Russia, marking a significant moment in North Korea-Russia relations.
North Korea, under Kim’s leadership, supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, blaming the “hegemonic policy” of the US for the war. North Korea recognized the independence of the breakaway states of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in Eastern Ukraine and acknowledged Russia’s unilateral annexation of certain Ukrainian territories.
In September 2022, reports emerged that Russia was purchasing millions of artillery shells and rockets from North Korea due to sanctions imposed following the invasion of Ukraine. Trade between North Korea and Russia rebounded to pre-pandemic levels by 2023, according to a report by the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS).
Kim’s interactions with Russian officials continued in July 2023, with Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu visiting 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, underscoring the ongoing diplomatic exchanges between the two countries.
In September 2023, Kim made a significant visit to Russia, meeting with President Putin at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amur Oblast. During the meeting, Kim reiterated his support for Russia’s actions and expressed solidarity in the face of Western pressure. The discussions also touched upon potential collaboration in satellite development, with Putin indicating interest in such cooperation.
North Korea’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved under Kim Jong-Un’s leadership. Initially claiming success in combatting the virus through isolation measures and restrictions on public gatherings, North Korea announced its first outbreak in May 2022.
Following the outbreak, Kim Jong-Un ordered strict lockdown measures and mobilized emergency medical supplies to combat the spread of the virus. The country reported hundreds of thousands of new cases and implemented measures to control the outbreak.
In August 2022, Kim Yo Jong indicated that Kim Jong-Un had contracted the virus, highlighting the challenges faced by North Korea in managing the pandemic. Despite efforts to control the situation, the country continues to grapple with the impact of COVID-19.
In conclusion, Kim Jong-un’s leadership of North Korea has been characterized by a combination of authoritarian rule, military focus, and a carefully cultivated cult of personality. While he has made efforts to engage with the international community through diplomacy, his regime’s confrontational stance and pursuit of nuclear weapons continue to pose challenges for regional stability. As North Korea navigates internal and external pressures, the role of Kim Jong-un as its supreme leader remains central to the country’s trajectory in the years to come.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) The Leadership of Kim Jong-un
1. Who is Kim Jong Un?
- Kim Jong Un is the supreme leader of North Korea, having assumed power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011.
2. What is Kim Jong Un’s background?
- Kim Jong Un was born on January 8, 1983 (or 1984), reportedly in Pyongyang, North Korea. He is the third and youngest son of Kim Jong Il and his consort, Ko Yong Hui.
3. What is Kim Jong Un known for?
- Kim Jong Un is known for his authoritarian rule, nuclear ambitions, and human rights abuses. He has maintained tight control over North Korea’s government and military.
4. How has Kim Jong Un’s leadership impacted North Korea’s relations with other countries?
- Kim Jong Un’s leadership has been marked by a series of provocative actions, including missile tests and nuclear weapons development, leading to tensions with the United States and other countries.
5. What is the current status of North Korea’s nuclear program under Kim Jong Un?
- North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear capabilities under Kim Jong Un, conducting several nuclear tests and missile launches. The country claims to possess nuclear weapons as a deterrent against perceived threats from the United States and its allies.
6. How has Kim Jong Un’s rule affected the lives of North Korean citizens?
- Kim Jong Un’s regime has been criticized for its human rights abuses, including political repression, forced labor camps, and restrictions on freedom of speech and movement. Many North Koreans live in poverty and face food shortages, while the ruling elite enjoy luxuries and privileges.
7. What efforts have been made to engage with North Korea diplomatically during Kim Jong Un’s leadership?
- There have been several attempts to engage with North Korea diplomatically, including summits between Kim Jong Un and world leaders such as Donald Trump and Moon Jae-in. However, progress towards denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula has been limited.
8. How does Kim Jong Un maintain power in North Korea?
- Kim Jong Un maintains power through a combination of political control, propaganda, and repression. The ruling Workers’ Party of Korea and the military play key roles in upholding his authority, while dissent and opposition are suppressed.
9. What is the outlook for North Korea under Kim Jong Un’s leadership?
- The outlook for North Korea remains uncertain, with ongoing concerns about its nuclear program, human rights situation, and regional stability. Diplomatic efforts continue to seek solutions to the longstanding issues on the Korean Peninsula.
10. What is the international community’s stance on Kim Jong Un and North Korea? – The international community generally condemns North Korea’s nuclear provocations and human rights abuses while seeking diplomatic solutions to address security concerns and promote stability in the region.