Who Is Kim Jong-un?
Much of the early life of Kim Jong-un is unknown to Western media. Presumably born in North Korea, Kim is the son of Ko Young-hee, an opera singer, and Kim Jong-il, the dictatorial leader of the country until his death in 2011. Although Kim Jong-un implemented some economic and agricultural reforms, human rights violations and brutal suppression of opposition continue to be reported under his rule. He also continued the country’s nuclear testing and development of missile technology in the face of international condemnation, though he announced intentions to be more cooperative in that area via historic meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018.
The birthdate and early childhood of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is shrouded in mystery. It is known that he is the third and 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-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. Kim Jong-il reportedly 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.
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. He was believed to be in his late 20s at the time.
Suppression of Opposition
After Kim assumed supreme leadership of North Korea, he reportedly executed or removed many senior officials that he had inherited from his father’s regime. Among those purged was his own uncle, Jang Song-thaek (also known as Chang Sŏng-t’aek), who is believed to have played an important role during Kim Kim Jong-il’s rule and had been considered one of Kim Jong-un’s top advisers.In December 2013, Jang was reportedly arrested and executed for being a traitor and plotting to overthrow the government. It is also believed that members of Jang’s family were executed as part of the purge. In February 2017, Kim’s older half-brother Kim Jong-nam died in Malaysia. Although many details remained unclear, it was believed he was poisoned at Kuala Lumpur airport, and multiple suspects were arrested. Kim Jong-nam had been living in exile for many years, during which time he served as a vocal critic of his half-brother’s regime.