Kim Jong-un took on the mantle of North Korea’s supreme leadership with little political or military experience behind him.
Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s “Dear Leader”, was in the process of grooming him as his successor when he died in December 2011.
Immediately after his father’s death, the younger Kim was hailed as “the great successor”. He was named head of the party, state and army within a fortnight of his father’s death.
Since then, he has shown he is committed to the advancement of North Korea’s weapons programme, ordering four nuclear tests and several missile tests.
He has also shown himself to be ruthless with the purge of his powerful uncle and the murder, widely attributed to an order from him, of his half-brother.
‘Morning Star King’
Kim Jong-un, the youngest son of Kim Jong-il and his third wife Ko Yong-hui, was born in 8 January 1983 or 1984.
He was initially not thought to be in the frame to take up his father’s mantle. Analysts focused instead on his older half-brother Kim Jong-nam and older full brother Kim Jong-chol.
However Kim Jong-nam’s deportation from Japan in May 2001 and middle brother Kim Jong-chol’s reported “unmanliness” improved his chances.
Analysts saw him as the coming man after he was awarded a series of high-profile political posts.
Swiss-educated like his brothers, Kim Jong-un avoided Western influences, returning home when not in school and dining out with the North Korean ambassador.
After his return to Pyongyang, he is known to have attended the Kim Il-sung Military University.
His mother was thought to be Kim Jong-il’s favourite wife, and she clearly doted on her son, reportedly calling him the “Morning Star King”.
In August 2010, when Kim Jong-il visited China, one report said Kim Jong-un had accompanied his father on the trip. By then he was widely seen as the heir-apparent and when Kim Jong-il died, this was quickly confirmed.
Mr Kim made his first public speech as North Korea marked the 100th anniversary of the birthday of founder Kim Il-sung on 15 April 2012, praising the “military first” doctrine and vowing the time his nation could be threatened was “forever over”.
Under him, the development of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes has continued and appears to have made rapid strides. Four more nuclear tests have taken place, bringing the regime’s total to six.
Pyongyang claims it has successfully tested a miniaturised hydrogen bomb that could be loaded on to a long-range missile, but experts remain divided on how advanced its programme is.
The reach of North Korea’s missiles also appears to have increased. In 2017 the regime test-fired several missiles, and claimed it had tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the US – leading to a surge in tensions with the Donald Trump-led administration and an intensified UN sanctions regime.
As the animosity between the two sides rose, Mr Trump and Mr Kim engaged in an increasingly fiery war of words.
Mr Trump called the North Korean leader a “rocket man on a suicide mission” while Mr Kim called the US leader a “mentally deranged US dotard”.
Yet, unexpectedly, Mr Kim offered an olive branch to South Korea in his new year’s address, saying he was “open to dialogue” and might send a team to the February 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
A flurry of diplomatic activity followed, with the two Koreas marching under one flag in the Olympic opening ceremony, and high-level meetings taking place between the two sides.
Two milestone meetings have now been planned: a summit between Mr Kim and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in in late April, and a face to face meeting between Mr Kim and Mr Trump in May – the first of its kind between sitting US and North Korean leaders.
Ahead of the two summits, Mr Kim made his first known foreign trip as leader. He took a train to Beijing – North Korea’s main ally and trading partner.
In April, Kim Jong-un said he had suspended all missile tests and would shut down a nuclear test site, because his country had achieved “nuclear weaponisation”.
Although the halt was welcomed internationally, observers pointed out that Pyongyang had not pledged to get rid of its existing weapons, and has previously broken promises to halt nuclear development.
Meet the Kims
Domestically, Mr Kim’s repeated replacement of defence ministers – there have been at least six men in the post since 2011 – has been seen by some analysts as an indication of his lack of confidence in the loyalty of the armed forces.
And the most high-profile indication of a possible power struggle within the North Korean elite came in December 2013, when Kim Jong-un ordered the execution of his uncle Chang Song-thaek. State media said he had been plotting a coup.
Mr Kim is also widely believed to have ordered the murder of his exiled half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, in February 2017 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Not much was known of Mr Kim’s personal life until television footage of an unidentified woman attending events with him surfaced. In July 2012, state media announced that Mr Kim was married to “Comrade Ri Sol-ju”.
Little is known of Ms Ri, but her stylish appearance led some analysts to suggest that she was from an upper-class family. Reports have suggested that Ms Ri may have been a singer who caught Mr Kim’s attention during a performance.
According to South Korean intelligence, the couple have three children.
Mr Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, holds a senior post in the Workers’ Party of Korea – and stole the limelight when she represented her brother at the Winter Olympics in the South. It is not known whether his elder brother, Kim Jong-chol, holds an official role.
Kim Jong Un Quick Facts:
Father: Kim Jong Il
Mother: Ko Yong Hui
Marriage: Ri Sol Ju
Children: Ju Ae and reportedly two others
Education: Kim Il Sung Military Academy, 2002-2007
Youngest son of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
Named to North Korea’s National Defense Commission.
September 28, 2010
Promoted to four-star general and named vice chairman of the Central Military Commission as well as to the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
October 9, 2010
Kim Jong Nam, eldest son of Kim Jong Il, tells Japan’s TV Asahi that he opposes the hereditary transfer of power for a third generation. These are his first comments since the promotion of Kim Jong Un, his half-brother.
December 17, 2011
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il dies at the age of 69.
December 28, 2011
Accompanies the body of Kim Jong Il during the funeral procession through Pyongyang.
December 31, 2011
ssumes command of the North Korean army. State-run Korean Central News Agency reports that the power was transferred to him on October 8 at the behest of his father.
April 15, 2012
Speaks before hundreds of troops and others in Pyongyang as part of a celebration marking 100 years since the birth of the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung, his grandfather. Kim’s address is his first televised speech since assuming the country’s leadership.
June 6, 2012
Makes his second public speech, speaking to tens of thousands of children in Pyongyang on the 66th anniversary of the Korean Children’s Union. His father, Kim Jong Il, is believed to have made only one brief broadcast throughout his reign.
July 18, 2012
Kim is given the title marshal of the army. It is the latest in a string of moves to reconfigure the top ranks of North Korea’s military. The announcement follows the removal of the army chief, Ri Yong Ho.
Hosts former NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman.
September 8, 2013
Upon returning from his second trip to North Korea, Rodman says he held “baby Ju Ae” and describes Kim as “a good dad.”
January 8, 2014
Rodman sings “Happy Birthday” to Kim before he and other former NBA players take on the North Koreans in an exhibition game.
March 9, 2014
Kim is unanimously elected as Deputy to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the DPRK, with 100% turnout.
Kim disappears from public view for about six weeks, reportedly to have a cyst removed from his right ankle.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se says that Kim has executed 70 officials since coming to power in late 2011.
December 10, 2015
According to state media outlet KCNA, Kim claims North Korea has added the hydrogen bomb to its nuclear arsenal. But outside observers are skeptical, saying that such an advance in nuclear technology seems unlikely.
July 6, 2016
The Obama administration imposes sanctions on Kim and 10 other regime officials for their alleged complicity in human rights abuses against the North Korean people. The move marks the first time Washington has sanctioned Kim personally.
September 21, 2016
South Korea’s Defense Minister announces that South Korea has elite troops on standby ready to assassinate Kim Jong Un if the country feels threatened by North Korean nuclear weapons.
December 29, 2016
A South Korean think tank publishes a report detailing the leader’s use of executions to hold onto power. According to the report, 340 people were executed during a five-year span.
January 1, 2017
During a televised address, Kim claims that North Korea is almost ready to begin testing intercontinental ballistic missiles.
February 13, 2017
Kim’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, dies after being poisoned at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport. South Korea’s intelligence agency later says that Kim ordered his death.
September 22, 2017
After US President Donald Trump threatens to “totally destroy” North Korea if the United States is forced to defend itself or an ally. Kim makes a rare direct statement on North Korean television, saying Trump will “pay dearly,” and “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire.”
February 10, 2018
Extends a formal invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to travel to North Korea. Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, presents the invite at Seoul’s presidential palace, marking the first time that a member of the North’s ruling dynasty has visited since the Korean War, which ended in an armistice in 1953.
March 8, 2018
The White House announces that Trump has agreed to meet Kim. The talks would be the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, and will take place by May.
March 25-28, 2018
Kim makes a surprise trip to Beijing and meets with President Xi Jinping, Chinese state media confirms. The trip is Kim’s first abroad since he took the reins after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in late 2011.
April 18, 2018
Trump confirms CIA Director Mike Pompeo visited North Korea and secretly met with Kim. A White House official tells CNN the meeting occurred over Easter weekend.
April 27, 2018
During a day-long summit, Kim and President Moon pledge to formally end the Korean War, 65 years after hostilities ceased. The Punmunjom Declaration also calls for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
May 26, 2018
Holds a surprise meeting with Moon, the second meeting of the two in a month, at the Demilitarized Zone, the South Korean presidency says in a statement, days after Trump had called off a June 12 summit with Kim.
June 12, 2018
Meets with Trump for almost five hours in Singapore, the first time sitting leaders of the United States and North Korea have met. The two leaders sign a statement that says:
“President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
September 18-20, 2018
Meets with Moon in Pyongyang, the third summit in 2018 between the two leaders and the first time since 2007 that a South Korean president has traveled to North Korea.
– Kim Jong-un Biography and Profile (BBC / CNN / Goodreadbiography)
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