Kim Jong-un is the supreme leader of North Korea. He assumed the role in 2011 and has ruled for over a decade. He is the second child of Kim Jong-il, who was the second supreme leader of North Korea and ruled between 1994 and 2011.
As with his predecessors, King Jong-un sustains his authoritarian leadership by a reverential cult of personality. During his time in office, he has expanded North Korea’s nuclear program and consumer economy, and has been responsible for the purge or execution of North Korean officials.
Here are 10 facts about Kim Jong-un.
1. He is North Korea’s third head of state
Kim Jong-un succeeded his father, Kim Jong-il as leader of North Korea in 2011. He was the second child of Kim Jong-il and his wife Ko Yong-hui. Kim Il-sung, founder of North Korea, was his grandfather.
Upon his father’s death in December 2011, Kim Jong-un became the head of the country’s government and military forces. This role was established with the awarding of multiple official titles in April 2012. These include first secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party and chairman of the Central Military Commission.
2. He may have been educated in Switzerland
According to media reports, Kim Jong-un was educated at a school in Switzerland. The Kim Jong family has sometimes been linked to the International School of Berne in Gümligen, Switzerland. In 2009, the Washington Post reported that Kim Jong-un arrived in Switzerland in 1998 to study at the Liebefeld-Steinhölzli Schule, and that he assumed the name “Pak Un”.
In a statement, the Liebefeld-Steinhölzli school confirmed that between 1998 and 2000 a North Korean son of an embassy employee was in attendance. His hobby was basketball. Between 2002 and 2007, Kim Jong-un studied at Kim Il-sung National War College in Pyŏngyang.
3. He married in 2009
Kim Jong-un is married to Ri Sol-ju. They married in 2009, though North Korean state media reported this only in 2012. They are alleged to have had their first child in 2010.
4. He is a four-star general
Without any known prior military experience, Kim Jong-un was given the rank of four-star general in September 2010. The elevation to four-star general coincided with the first general meeting of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party since the 1980 session at which Kim Jong-il was named Kim Il-Sung’s successor.
5. He established his power with violent purges
People were routinely executed during the early rule of Kim Jong-un, according to reports drawn from defectors and the South Korean intelligence services. In December 2013, Kim Jong-un ordered the execution of his uncle Jang Song-thaek. Jang was a high-profile ally of his father’s and had served as a virtual regent for the younger Kim Jong-un after Kim Jong-il’s death.
6. He is suspected of ordering the assassination of his half-brother
In 2017, Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, was assassinated at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. He died after being exposed to the nerve agent VX.
Kim Jong-nam was probably considered the heir apparent to his father, though fell out of favour. He caused embarrassment after attempting to enter Japan with his family using a forged Dominican passport, claiming he was visiting Tokyo Disneyland. Following his exile from North Korea in 2003, he occasionally criticised the regime.
7. Kim Jong-un dramatically increased nuclear weapons testing
North Korea’s first underground nuclear detonation took place in October 2006, and the first nuclear test of Kim Jong-un’s regime took place in February 2013. Thereafter, the frequency of testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles rapidly increased.
Within four years, North Korea had conducted six nuclear tests. North Korean officials claimed one device was suitable to be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
8. Kim Jong-un vowed to bring prosperity to North Korea
In his first public speech as leader in 2012, Kim Jong-un declared that North Koreans would “never have to tighten their belts again”. Under Kim Jong-un, reforms have been implemented in order to improve the autonomy of enterprises, while novel recreational sites like amusement parks have been built and consumer culture has been promoted.
9. US-led sanctions have inhibited his economic ambitions
North Korea’s economic progress has been stunted under Kim Jong-un’s leadership. Sanctions led by the United States in response to North Korea’s nuclear program and missile tests have prevented Kim Jong-un from delivering prosperity to North Korea’s impoverished populace. The North Korean economy has also been a victim of decades of intense military spending and reported mismanagement.
10. He met for two summits with former President Trump
Kim Jong-un met with President Donald Trump multiple times, in 2018 and 2019. The first summit, which marked the first meeting between leaders of North Korea and the United States, concluded with a North Korean pledge towards “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” while Trump pledged to end joint US-South Korean military exercises.
At their second summit in February 2019, the United States rejected North Korea’s demand to remove sanctions in exchange for dismantling an ageing nuclear facility. The United States and North Korea have not met publicly since a failed subsequent meeting between officials in October 2019. Two months later, Kim Jong-un described US pressure as “gangster-like” and committed to expanding North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.
Early overtures from the administration of President Biden, who assumed office in January 2021, were rejected by Kim Jong-un.