Kim Jong-un biography
Much of the early life of Kim Jong-un is unknown to Western media. Presumably born in North Korea, Kim Jong-un is the son of Ko Young-hee, an opera singer, and Kim Jong-il, who was the military-oriented leader of the country for over a decade until his death in 2011. Kim Jong-un has continued the country’s nuclear testing and what is believed to be the development of missile technology despite international disapproval. He has pledged to focus on educational and economic reforms and is more mediagenic in his approach to leadership than his father.
Limited Information on Early Life
The birthdate and early childhood of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is shrouded in mystery. It is known that he is the youngest son of Korean military leader Kim Jong Il (also written Jong-il), who, under the communist Worker's Party, had ruled North Korea since 1994; and the grandson of Kim Il-sung, his father's predecessor. Kim Jong Il began to prepare Kim Jong-un for succession to leadership in 2010. Upon his father's death in December 2011, Kim Jong-un assumed power. It is believed that he was in his late 20s at the time. He reportedly counts among his close allies his uncle, Jang Sung-taek, and army political bureau chief Choe Ryong Hae.
Kim Jong-un's mother was opera singer Ko Young-hee, who had two other children and is thought to have campaigned for Kim Jong-un to be his father's successor before her death in 2004. It has been reported that Kim Jong Il indeed took a liking to Kim Jong-un, noting that he saw in the youth a temperament similar to himself. It is also thought that Kim Jong-un may have been educated abroad in Switzerland before attending the Kim Il-sung Military University (named after his grandfather) in the capital of Pyongyang in the mid-2000s.
Suspected Weapons Testing
Under Kim Jong-un's authority, North Korea has continued what are believed to be weapons-testing programs. Though agreeing in February 2012 to halt nuclear testing and to a cessation on long-range missile launching, in April 2012, the country launched a satellite that failed shortly after takeoff. Then, in December of the same year, the government launched a long-range rocket that put a satellite in orbit. The U.S. government believes that these launches are meant to cover up work and testing on ballistic missile technology.
In February 2013, North Korea held its third underground nuclear test. The act has been roundly condemned by the international community, including the United States, Russia, Japan and China. In the face of further sanctions, analysts have stated that Kim's continued focus on armament while calling for U.S. peace talks is a strategy of positioning North Korea as a formidable entity and cementing his standing as a regional leader.
More Mediagenic Manner
In the summer of 2012, it was revealed that Kim had taken a wife, Ri Sol-ju. While the couple's exact wedding date is unknown, one source reported it as 2009. In the months since the marriage was uncovered, the country's first lady has frequently appeared in media—a striking departure from previous protocols.
It has also been speculated that the couple have a child.
Kim Jong-un, who is part of the cyber-generation, is seen as having a more mediagenic approach then his father, with the younger Kim having given a New Year's broadcast, taking in musical performances with his wife and being seen as more engaging with soldiers and workers. He has also embraced cultural items that might be seen as more Western in their aesthetic.
Another sign of Jong-un's Western interests surfaced in early 2013. Former professional basketball player Dennis Rodman paid North Korea a two-day visit. During Rodman's stay, Kim accompanied him to watch a basketball game. Rodman has claimed that he wants to help improve relations between the United States and North Korea.
Economic Plight of North Korea
North Korea has been mired in poverty and economic ruin, with a devastating famine in the 1990s and food shortages that have continued for most of the population, affecting its school system as well. The country also reportedly has a concentration camp system with torturous, horrifying conditions for thousands of prisoners. Kim has vowed to focus on educational and economic reforms, including looking at a program that would allow North Koreans to work in China.