Kim Jong-un is the Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), commonly referred to as North Korea. Kim is the second child of Kim Jong-il (1941–2011) and his consort Ko Yong-hui. Little is known for certain about Kim Jong-un. Before taking power, he had barely been seen in public, and many of the activities of both Kim and his government remain shrouded in secrecy. Even details such as what year he was born, and whether he did indeed attend a Western school under a pseudonym, are difficult to confirm with certainty.
Kim was officially declared the supreme leader following the state funeral of his father on 28 December 2011. Kim holds the titles of Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Chairman of the National Defence Commission, Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, and presidium member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. Kim was promoted to the rank of Marshal of North Korea in the Korean People’s Army on 18 July 2012, consolidating his position as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and is often referred to as Marshal Kim Jong-un or “the Marshal” by state media.
Scarce information on Kim Jong-un’s early life comes from North Korean defectors and people who have claimed to witness him abroad, such as during his school attendance in Switzerland. Some of the information has been conflicting and contradictory, perhaps confusing him with his brother, Kim Jong-chul, who also attended school in Switzerland around the same time. Nevertheless, there has been some consensus on information about his early life. North Korean authorities have stated that his birthdate is 8 January 1982, but South Korean intelligence officials believe the actual date is a year later. Former basketball star Dennis Rodman said that the birthdate is 8 January 1983 after meeting Kim in September 2013 in North Korea. Kim Jong-Un was the second of three children Ko Yong-hui bore to Kim Jong-il; his elder brother Kim Jong-chul was born in 1981, while his younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, is believed to have been born in 1987.
Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission
Kim Jong-un was made a daejang, the equivalent of a four-star general in the United States, on 27 September 2010, a day ahead of a rare Workers’ Party of Korea conference in Pyongyang, the first time North Korean media had mentioned him by name and despite his having no previous military experience. Despite the promotion, no further details, including verifiable portraits of Kim, were released. On 28 September 2010, he was named vice chairman of the Central Military Commission and appointed to the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, in an apparent nod to become the successor to Kim Jong-il.
On 10 October 2010, alongside his father, Kim Jong-un attended the ruling Workers’ Party’s 65th anniversary celebration. This was seen as fully confirming his position as the next leader of the Workers’ Party. Unprecedented international press access was granted to the event, further indicating the importance of Kim Jong-un’s presence. In January 2011, the regime reportedly began purging around 200 protégés of both Jong-un’s uncle-in-law Jang Sung-taek and O Kuk-ryol, the vice chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea, by either detention or execution to further prevent either man from rivaling Jong-un.
Ruler of North Korea
On 17 December 2011, Kim Jong-il died. Despite the elder Kim’s plans, it was not immediately clear after his death whether Jong-un would in fact take full power, and what his exact role in a new government would be. Some analysts had predicted that when Kim Jong-il died, Jang Sung-taek would act as regent, as Jong-un was too inexperienced to immediately lead the country. North Korea’s cult of personality around Kim Jong-un was stepped up following his father’s death. He was hailed as the “great successor to the revolutionary cause of Juche”, “outstanding leader of the party, army and people” and “respected comrade who is identical to Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il”, and was made chairman of the Kim Jong-il funeral committee. The Korean Central News Agency described Kim Jong-un as “a great person born of heaven”, a propaganda term only his father and grandfather had enjoyed, while the ruling Workers’ Party said in an editorial: “We vow with bleeding tears to call Kim Jong-un our supreme commander, our leader."
He was publicly declared Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army on 24 December 2011 and formally appointed to the position on 30 December when the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party "courteously proclaimed that the dear respected Kim Jong Un, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, assumed the supreme commandership of the Korean People’s Army”.