Kim Jong-un: North Korea's enigmatic heir apparent

Kim Jong-un, the third and youngest son of North Korea's late leader, Kim Jong-il, appears to be the successor to the dictator who died on the weekend.
Kim Jong-un, right, along with his father and North Korea leader Kim Jong-il, left, attend a massive military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers Party in Pyongyang, North Korea, in October 2010. (Kyodo News/File/Associated Press )

Kim Jong-un, the third and youngest son of North Korea’s late leader Kim Jong-il, appears to be the successor to the dictator who died on the weekend.

A statement from the ruling Workers Party broadcast by state media referred to the son as "the great successor to the revolution" and "the eminent leader of the military and the people."

Little is known about Kim Jong-un, who is believed to be in his late 20s, but after his father suffered a stroke in 2008, the leader began moves to establish his youngest son as a successor.

Kim Jong-un apparently attended the International School of Bern in Switzerland under the pseudonym Pak Chol, studying English, German and French. Classmates described him as timid and introverted but an avid skier and basketball player.

North Koreans have been told he graduated from Kim Il-sung Military University, and is adept at computing and technology. His birth date, marital status and even the name of his mother — said to be Kim Jong-il's late second wife, Ko Yong-hui — are all secrets.

"There is a rumour that he is married, but officially we don't know," said Yoon Deok-ryong, an expert in North Korean economic reform at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy in Seoul.

In September 2010, the official Korean Central News Agency reported that the heir apparent had been promoted to a four-star general and appointed to the Central Military Commission.

His appearance with his father during a massive military parade in Pyongyang in October 2010 was regarded as a further sign the son was being groomed as a successor. He had also reportedly made a visit to China with his father earlier in the year.

Possible figurehead

Foreign affairs analyst Eric Margolis described Kim Jong-un to CBC's News Network as a "non-entity … but the son will probably emerge as a figurehead behind different competing factions, namely the Communist Party, hardliners and the military, who will agree on him to prevent a power struggle."

Jong-un is expected to turn to members of his father's inner circle, including his aunt, Kim Jong-il's sister Kim Kyong-hui; her husband, Jang Song-thaek; and other Kim Jong-il confidants, experts said.

Yoon suggested the relatives could form a committee to rule the country. "His power succession is not completed yet."

According to the memoir of a man who says he spent 11 years as the Kim family's sushi chef, Jong-un possesses his father's toughness and ambition.

The chef, who goes by the pen name Kenji Fujimoto, described Jong-un as a competitive, even ruthless, child. 

Dressed in a military outfit, the young Jong-un "glared at me with a menacing look when we shook hands" the first time they met, Fujimoto wrote in Kim Jong-il's Chef. "I can never forget the look in his eyes which seemed to be saying, 'This one is a despicable Japanese.'"

Jong-un loved basketball, the chef wrote, and was a fan of the NBA's Chicago Bulls. He also loved movies, a passion shared by his father. In looks, tastes and personality, the youngest son was the "spitting image" of his father, and it was clear he was the leader's favourite, the chef wrote.

Kim Jong-il's eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, who is about 40, was once thought a likely successor, but displayed erratic behaviour in 2001 when he was deported from Japan after attempting to enter the country under a false Dominican Republic passport in a bid to visit Tokyo's Disneyland.

Kim Jong-il's other son is Kim Jong-chol, who apparently was not considered a prospect for leadership.

With files from The Associated Press