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Digital Archive International History Declassified


Kim Jong Un

James E. Hoare

Third son of Kim Jong Il and the current DPRK leader, having succeeded Kim Jong Il in 2011.


KIM JONG UN (1983?- ). Third son of Kim Jong Il. His mother was Ko Yeong-hui. Like his siblings, Kim Jeong-nam and Kim Jeong-cheol, Kim Jong Un appears to have attended school in Switzerland and later to have studied at both Kim Il Sung University and at the Kim Il Sung Military University. No picture of him appeared in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) media until 2010. However, following Kim Jong Il’s reported stroke in the summer of 2008, there was much speculation that Kim Jong Un was his designated successor. This was reinforced when he was appointed to a junior position on the National Defense Council, which his father headed. In May 2009, the Republic of Korea (ROK) newspaper Korea Herald claimed that he accompanied his father on all major visits and that he had organized the 150-Day Campaign to encourage production. There were also reports in the ROK around the same time that he had been given the title “’Brilliant Comrade” (yeongmyeong dongji), and that schools and institutions had been instructed to sing a song in his praise: “Footsteps” or “Sounds of Footsteps.” It was also claimed that the increasing use of the initials CNC (Computer Numerical Control) was in fact a code for the young Kim. There was no independent confirmation for these claims, and foreign residents in the DPRK said that they had not heard the song. The rumors steadily increased until the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) meeting in September 2010, when Kim Jong Un was named as a vice chairman of the KWP Central Military Commission and appointed a four-star general, though he appears to have no direct military experience, and began to appear with Kim Jong Il at functions. His title now appeared to be the “Young General.” These moves indicated that he was indeed being groomed to succeed his father, although there was nothing to indicate that he had taken over any of the latter’s functions. The most remarkable feature about him was his strong physical resemblance to his grandfather, Kim Il Sung.

During 2011, Kim Jong Un was pictured with his father on many visits and officials seemed prepared to admit that he was Kim Jong Il’s son, although there was never any public announcement that this was the case. This reticence disappeared immediately after the announcement of Kim Jong Il’s death on 19 December 20 II. Kim Jong Un was now clearly identified as Kim Jong Il’s son and was conspicuous as the chief mourner while his father lay in state and at the funeral ceremonies held on 28-29 December. He also acquired new titles. On 31 December 2011, the KWP Politburo announced that, in accordance with Kim Jong Il’s will dated 8 October 2011, Kim Jong Un would become supreme commander of the armed forces. He was also referred to as the supreme leader of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the state and army of the DPRK, “Great Successor,” “Supreme Leader,” and “Great Leader,” and there were also references to the “Dear respected leader Kim Jong Un.” Unlike Kim Jong II, who retreated into a three-year mourning period after his father’s death and was rarely seen during this period. the new leader began to make public appearances soon after the funeral. The propaganda machine also came into action, with films and photographs showing the new leader in a series of action shots, including horse riding, driving a tank, and engaging in other military activities as well as being greeted enthusiastically whenever he appeared. Foreign commentators found it rather crude, but they were not the target audience. Few ordinary North Koreans, at whom the material was aimed. would likely notice the jerkiness and omissions that marked much of the material. Kim Jong Un was shown as a heroic figure, but little additional information was given about him as a person or about his views. A young woman seen in some of the mourning scenes was tentatively identified as his wife, but there was no confirmation of this.

Outsiders have continued to speculate about who really holds power in the DPRK following the departure of Kim Jong Il. Officially there is no issue to be debated, since the younger Kim was clearly his father’s designated successor and, according to Yang Hyeong-seop of the SPA, he had been trained by his father for the role. The reality is that there is probably some form of collective leadership designed to guide the new leader as he learns his way around. This will include his uncle, Jang Seong-taek, who was prominent at the funeral. walking beside the hearse immediately behind Kim Jong Un. Vice Marshal Ri Yeong-ho, widely believed to be close to Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un, who also walked beside the hearse, will be another. Kim Jong Il’s sister and Jang Seong-taek’s wife, Kim Gyeong-hui, who became a four-star general in 2010, may also play a role. Kim Jong Un will probably not be as powerful as his father, but he may be a useful front man and is thus unlikely to disappear from the scene.

All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the publisher. (Historical Dictionary of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, by James E. Hoare, published by RLPG Books, appears by permission of the author and publisher).