What will Kim Jong Un do? Even the ex­perts aren’t sure.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY ANNA FI­FIELD

seoul — If North Korea goes ahead with its threat to fire bal­lis­tic mis­siles to­ward the U.S. ter­ri­tory of Guam, the or­der will come from Kim Jong Un him­self.

The of­fi­cials in charge of North Korea’s mis­sile pro­gram could com­plete their prepa­ra­tions by next week and would then wait for the 33-year-old leader to de­cide what to do next.

Will Kim give the or­der to fire, po­ten­tially invit­ing re­tal­i­a­tion from an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent who has his mil­i­tary “locked and loaded”?

This is not a ques­tion of tech­ni­cal ca­pa­bil­ity. North Korea has al­ready demon­strated that it has made great ad­vances in its mis­sile pro­gram and can the­o­ret­i­cally now hit the U.S. main­land. No, this is a ques­tion of strat­egy. “The North Ko­re­ans have been very clear that they need his au­tho­riza­tion. This is a mo­ment for Kim Jong Un,” said Michael Mad- who runs the North Korea Lead­er­ship Watch web­site and closely stud­ies Kim. “He may take it as an op­por­tu­nity to prove him­self, or as an op­por­tu­nity to let cooler heads pre­vail.”

The Kim regime has a his­tory of mak­ing bel­li­cose threats that it can­not or does not make good on. This may well be one of those cases.

Or it might not. For starters, North Korea likes to mark im­por-

tant dates, and there are two ap­proach­ing.

On Tues­day, North Korea will cel­e­brate Lib­er­a­tion Day, com­mem­o­rat­ing the end of colo­nial rule by Japan — over which any Guam-bound mis­sile would fly. Then on Aug. 21, South Korea and the United States will start an­nual mil­i­tary ex­er­cises that al­ways an­tag­o­nize North Korea.

The prob­lem with try­ing to fig­ure out what Kim might do in a sit­u­a­tion like this is se­verely com­pli­cated by the fact that the out­side world knows al­most noth­ing about him.

Youngest son of Kim Jong Il

He was born in North Korea in 1984, the youngest son of Kim Jong Il — who would be­come the coun­try’s leader a decade later — and a Ja­panese-born eth­nic Korean dancer named Ko Yong Hui.

The fact that he was the third son should have dis­qual­i­fied him from con­tention for the lead­er­ship in a so­ci­ety where the first­born son has pri­macy.

But thanks in no small part to his mother’s am­bi­tion, Kim Jong Un soon be­came heir ap­par­ent. He was anointed suc­ces­sor at the age of 8, his aunt, Ko Yong Suk, told The Wash­ing­ton Post last year. He was given a gen­eral’s uni­form dec­o­rated with stars, and real gen­er­als with real stars bowed to him from that mo­ment on.

“It was im­pos­si­ble for him to grow up as a nor­mal per­son when the peo­ple around him were treat­ing him like that,” said Ko, who, be­fore de­fect­ing to the United States in 1998, acted as Kim’s guardian while he went to school in Switzer­land.

School in Bern

When he was 12, in 1996, Kim started school in Bern, the Swiss cap­i­tal, and lived with his aunt and un­cle and his older brother Kim Jong Chol in an or­di­nary apart­ment.

Kim’s mother used to visit reg­u­larly, and in­tel­li­gence ser­vices kept close tabs on her, the Swiss news­pa­per Le Matin Di­manche re­ported last month. But the gov­ern­ment for­bade them from spy­ing on the chil­dren: Jong Chol, who agents called “the tall skinny one,” and Jong Un, “the short fat one.”

As a re­sult, Swiss in­tel­li­gence had lit­tle in­for­ma­tion on the boy who would later be­come the supreme leader of North Korea.

In­stead, much of what the world knows about Kim as a child comes from Kenji Fu­ji­moto, the idio­syn­cratic Ja­panese sushi chef who, down on his luck in the 1980s, moved to North Korea to serve fish to Kim Jong Il.

In in­ter­views with The Post, Fu­ji­moto de­scribed the way Kim, who was then a child, re­fused to shake Fu­ji­moto’s hand or use po­lite forms in Korean.

Fu­ji­moto re­called the day when Kim, who was about 10, had a tantrum at be­ing called “lit­tle gen­eral” and in­stead in­sisted on be­ing called “com­rade gen­eral.”

“This is an un­for­get­table episode that showed the ag­gres­sive side of his per­son­al­ity,” Fu­ji­moto wrote in one of his books.

The other tales from Kim’s teenage years re­veal a boy who was spoiled — he had the lat­est PlayS­ta­tions and Air Jor­dan shoes — and com­pet­i­tive, his for­mer class­mates have said.

“For him, bas­ket­ball was ev­ery­thing,” Joao Mi­caelo, one of Kim’s class­mates, told CNN in 2010. “He played bas­ket­ball, he had bas­ket­ball games on his PlaySta­tion. The whole world for him was just bas­ket­ball all the time.”

But af­ter Kim re­turned to North Korea in 2001, the trail — such as it is — runs out.

Kim is thought to have at­tended Kim Il Sung Mil­i­tary Uni­ver­sity in Py­ongyang and to have started be­ing groomed for his even­tual role.

On Jan. 8, 2009 — Kim’s 25th birth­day — Kim Jong Il an­nounced to his cadres that he had cho­sen his youngest son as his suc­ces­sor. But the heir ap­par­ent was not seen in pub­lic un­til Oct. 10, 2010, at a Work­ers’ Party cel­e­bra­tion where he stood next to his fa­ther on the bal­cony over­look­ing Kim Il Sung Square. It was his com­ing out.

He was rapidly pro­moted through the Work­ers’ Party and mil­i­tary ranks as his fa­ther’s health de­te­ri­o­rated. When his fa­ther died of a heart at­tack at the end of 2011, the “Great Suc­ces­sor” was ready to take over.

Since then, Kim has de­fied hopes that his Western ed­u­ca­tion would make him a re­former. In­stead, he has presided over a sys­tem ev­ery bit as bru­tal as his fa­ther’s and grand­fa­ther’s.

He has had his un­cle, Jang Song Thaek, and at least 150 high level of­fi­cials ex­e­cuted, the South Korean in­tel­li­gence ser­vice es­ti­mates, and many more purged.

His half brother’s death

Kim is also blamed for the grue­some death of his half brother, Kim Jong Il’s first­born son and there­fore a po­ten­tial ri­val, this year. Kim Jong Nam died soon af­ter hav­ing his face smeared with a chem­i­cal weapon in a Malaysian air­port ter­mi­nal.

He has also tried to seal the coun­try more tightly, crack­ing down on bor­der cross­ings and find­ing new ways to block out­side in­for­ma­tion from get­ting in.

And, most alarm­ingly, Kim Jong Un has made ob­serv­able progress on his vow to ac­quire an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the United States. In his Jan. 1 New Year’s ad­dress, Kim said his rocket sci­en­tists were in the fi­nal stages of prepa­ra­tions for a test.

Then, on July 4 — a date that was no co­in­ci­dence — North Korea fired an ICBM with the tech­ni­cal ca­pa­bil­ity to make good on that threat. At the end of the month, it fired an­other one.

At a huge cel­e­bra­tion ban­quet in Py­ongyang last month, the com­rade gen­eral said the launches were “a re­mark­able leap­ing for­ward in the great era of Kim Jong Un and its in­ex­haustible po­ten­tial­ity and the in­vin­ci­ble stamina of heroic Korea.”

But beyond the child­hood ac­counts and the re­ports about Kim in his regime pro­pa­ganda, very lit­tle is known about him as a per­son or as a leader.

‘We sing karaoke’

He has not trav­eled abroad or hosted a for­eign leader since he was des­ig­nated suc­ces­sor in 2010, and the only Amer­i­cans who have met him are re­tired bas­ket­ball star Den­nis Rod­man and his en­tourage.

“I think peo­ple don’t see him as . . . a friendly guy,” Rod­man told ABC af­ter re­turn­ing from his fifth trip to Py­ongyang, in June, al­though he did not meet Kim this time.

“If you ac­tu­ally talk to him,” you see a dif­fer­ent side of Kim, Rod­man said. “We sing karaoke. It’s all fun. Ride horses, ev­ery­thing,” said the for­mer player for the Chicago Bulls — Kim’s fa­vorite team.

Be­cause the pre­vi­ous two North Korean lead­ers trav­eled and met out­siders, psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ers were able to build a pic­ture of them. But the lack of hu­man in­tel­li­gence on Kim means that the CIA hasn’t even been able to write a proper pro­file of him, said Mad­den of North Korea Lead­er­ship Watch.

A South Korean ex­pert who ad­vises the gov­ern­ment in Seoul said Kim dis­plays some “nar­cis­sis­tic per­son­al­ity traits.”

“He be­lieves that the whole world re­volves around him, so he ex­ag­ger­ates and over­rates him­self,” said the ex­pert, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of his work. “His in­tel­li­gence, power, suc­cess — it’s all a fan­tasy.”

And, like any nar­cis­sist, Kim wants to re­main the cen­ter of at­ten­tion.

“The North Ko­re­ans have been very clear that they need his au­tho­riza­tion. This is a mo­ment for Kim Jong Un. He may take it as an op­por­tu­nity to prove him­self, or as an op­por­tu­nity to let cooler heads pre­vail.” Michael Mad­den, North Korea Lead­er­ship Watch


Very lit­tle is known about North Korea’s supreme leader as a per­son or as a head of state.


TOP: North Ko­re­ans wave ar­ti­fi­cial flow­ers at leader Kim Jong Un as they march across Kim Il Sung Square in Py­ongyang dur­ing an April 15 mil­i­tary pa­rade to mark the 105th an­niver­sary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the coun­try’s founder and grand­fa­ther of Kim Jong Un. ABOVE: Kim at­tends a Work­ers’ Party congress in 2016. On Tues­day, North Korea will cel­e­brate Lib­er­a­tion Day, com­mem­o­rat­ing the end of rule by Japan — over which any Guam-bound mis­sile would fly.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.