Kim Jong-un, youngest known son of Kim Jong-il, inherits his father’s role. North Korean media have been calling him the “Great Successor”. He is believed to be in his 20s, born in 1984, and then educated in Switzerland.
Records show he studied English, German and French at the International School in Berne, then military matters back in North Korea.
He was first mentioned in official propaganda one year ago. Sketching out his biography to date is something of a challenge for various intelligence services. Consensus has it his mother was a dancer. Analysts are non-committal about his prospects.
Rory Metcalf, head of the International Asian Security Programme at the Lowy Institute, based in Sydney, said: “I don’t think we can expect great progress or great reforming instinct from him, partly because I think he will need to prove his strength, prove his assertiveness as a leader. Ironically, this comes at a time when it appears North Korea was beginning to negotiate a new arrangement, a new deal.”
In October last year, Kim Jong-un was promoted to general. He appeared with his father to review the North Korean Communist Party’s 65th anniversary military parade. The international community concluded Kim Jong-il had decided this was the son most suited to follow him. But what now?
Tomohiko Taniguchi, Keio University Special Guest Professor and former adviser to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, said: “You’d better be prepared for all sorts of contingencies, because anything can happen from now on and the succession process has been far from secure and mature and even though we have an heir apparent, so to speak, it’s not a done deal whether he, Kim Jong-un, is going to succeed – peacefully – his father.”
During the last year, Kim Jong-un has been seen close to his father in his public but has never made a public speech – perhaps a family trait. Even to his people he is only emerging from the realm of enigma.
Ties remain to be cemented with the military and the Workers’ Party that rules North Korea, and of which he is now head. The young man has inherited the world’s last dynastic communist dictatorship. In this, and questions of North Korean nuclear capacity, Kim Jong-un holds the world in thrall.