Kim Jong-il

Template:Koreanname north image Chairman Kim Jong-il (born February 16, 1942) has been the ruler of North Korea since 1994. He succeeded his father, Kim Il-sung, who had ruled North Korea since 1948. Formerly styled as the Dear Leader,Template:Ref, he is now officially addressed by his title Chairman. Kim holds the positions of Chairman of the National Defense Committee and General Secretary of the Korean Workers' Party. His birthday is a public holiday in North Korea.


Rise to power

According to Western and South Korean sources, Kim Jong-il was born as Yuri Irsenowich Kim in a small village of Viatskoe (or Viatsk), an army camp near Khabarovsk in the Soviet Union, where his father, Kim Il-sung, was both an important figure among Korean Communist exiles and a captain and battalion commander in the Soviet 88th Brigade, which was made up of Chinese and Korean guerrillas. Kim Jong-il's official biography maintains that he was born at Mount Paektu in northern Korea, and that he was born on February 16, 1942, but there has been speculation that he is slightly older. Kim Jong-il's mother was Kim Il-sung's first wife, Chong-suk. South Korean sources claim that Kim Jong-Il was born on February 16, 1941, and that subsequently his "official" birth year was adjusted so as to be in harmony in terms of decades with that of his father, Kim Il-sung.

Kim was a young child when World War II ended. His father returned to Pyongyang in September 1945, and in late November the younger Kim returned to Korea via a Soviet ship that landed at Unggi. The family moved into a former Japanese officer's mansion in Pyongyang, with a garden and pool. The younger Kim's brother Shura Kim (also known as the first Kim Pyong-il) drowned there in 1947. In 1948 Kim Jong-il began primary school. In 1949 his mother died during labour.

Kim probably received most of his education in the People's Republic of China, where he was sent away from his father for greater safety during the Korean War. According to the official version, he graduated from Namsan School in Pyongyang, a special school for the children of communist party officials. He is later said to have attended Kim Il-sung University and to have majored in Political Economy, graduating in 1964. By the time of his graduation, his father, revered in the government's official pronouncements as "the Great Leader", had firmly consolidated control over the regime. He is also said to have received English language education at the University of Malta in the early 1970s, on his infrequent holidays in Malta as guest of Maltese Prime Minister Dom Mintoff. [1] (,3604,866479,00.html)

After graduating in 1964, Kim Jong-il began his ascension through the ranks of the ruling Korean Worker's Party, working first in the party's elite Organization Department before being named a member of the Politburo in 1968. In 1969 he was appointed deputy director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department.

Kim Jong-il (left), with his father .
Kim Jong-il (left), with his father Kim Il-sung.

The elder Kim had meanwhile remarried and had another son, Kim Pyong-il, sparking an intense rivalry between Kim Jong-il and his younger half-brother. It is unclear when Jong-il was chosen over Pyong-il, or whether Pyong-il was ever seriously considered as successor by his father. Kim Pyong-il was eventually posted to a series of distant embassies to keep the two "brothers" apart. Kim Pyong-il was later banished to Hungary as an ambassador. This was suspected to be because Kim Il-sung did not want a power struggle between his two sons.

In 1973, Kim was made Party secretary of organization and propaganda, and in 1974, he was officially designated his father's successor. During the next 15 years, he accumulated further positions, among them Minister of Culture and head of party operations against South Korea.

Kim gradually made his presence felt within the Korean Workers Party from the Seventh Plenum of the Fifth Central Committee in September 1973, leading the "Three Revolution Team" campaigns. He was often referred to as the "Party Center", due to his growing influence over the daily operations of the Party.

By the time of the Sixth Party Congress in October 1980, Kim Jong-il's control of the Party operation was complete. He was given senior posts in the Politburo, the Military Commission and the party Secretariat. When he was made a member of the Seventh Supreme People's Assembly in February 1982, it had become clear to international observers that he was the heir apparent to succeed his father as the supreme leader of the DPRK.

At this time Kim assumed the title "Dear Leader" and the government began building a personality cult around him patterned after that of his father, the "Great Leader". Kim Jong-il was regularly hailed by the media as the "peerless leader" and "the great successor to the revolutionary cause". He emerged as the most powerful figure behind his father in the DPRK.

In 1991, Kim was also named supreme commander of the North Korean armed forces. Since the Army is the real foundation of power in North Korea, this was a vital step. It appears that the veteran Defense Minister, Oh Jin-wu, one of Kim Il-sung's most loyal subordinates, engineered Kim Jong-il's acceptance by the Army as the next leader of the North Korea, despite his lack of military service. The only other possible leadership candidate, Prime Minister Kim Il (no relation), was removed from his posts in 1976. In 1992, Kim Il-sung publicly stated that his son was in charge of all internal affairs in North Korea.

By the 1980s, North Korea was in deep economic crisis as the state-controlled command economy stagnated, aggravated by Kim Il-sung's policy of juche (self-reliance), which cut the country off from almost all external trade, even with its traditional partners, the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. During this period, North Korea resorted to increasingly desperate measures to raise hard currency and fend off its many enemies, and Kim Jong-il seems to have been responsible for some of the more bizarre of these, such as the kidnapping of people from Japan and the dealing of drugs through embassies.

South Korea accused Kim of ordering the 1983 Rangoon bombing in Rangoon, Burma (now Yangn, Myanmar), which killed 17 visiting South Korean officials, including four cabinet members, and another in 1987 which killed all 115 on board Korean Air Flight 858. No direct evidence has emerged to link Kim to the bombings. A North Korean agent confessed to planting a bomb in the case of the second.

In power

Missing image
Kim Jong-il with Kim Dae-jung

Kim Il-sung died in 1994 at age 82, and Kim Jong-il assumed control of the Party and state apparatus. Although the post of President was left vacant, and appears to have been abolished in deference to the memory of Kim Il-sung, Kim took the titles of General Secretary of the Party and chairman of the National Defense Commission, the real center of power in North Korea. In 1998 this position was declared to be "the highest post of the state", so Kim may be regarded as North Korean head of state from that date.

The state-controlled economy continued to stagnate throughout the 1990s, as a result of poor industrial and agricultural productivity, the loss of guaranteed markets following the fall of the Soviet Union and the introduction of a market economy in China, and the regime's huge expenditure on armaments. With a hostile international environment, and given the structural imbalances stemming from decades of allocating resources to the defense sector, North Korea under Kim Jong-il has shown no signs of shrinking its huge military—probably the highest relative to the size of the economy of any country in the world.

By 2000, there were frequent reports from reliable sources (such as the UN) of famine in all parts of North Korea except Pyongyang, which the regime preserves as a showcase for foreign visitors. North Korean citizens ran increasingly desperate risks to escape from the country, mainly into China.

On the domestic front, Kim has given occasional signs that he favors economic reforms similar to those carried out in China by Deng Xiaoping, and on visits to China he has expressed admiration for China's economic progress. But at home he has done little or nothing to relax the absolute control of the state and party over all aspects of economic life. He has certainly given no sign of considering the decollectivisation of agriculture, which was the foundation of Deng's reforms.

In the time span coinciding with Kim Dae-jung's visit to the North (see the section on international affairs below), however, North Korea introduced a number of economic changes, including price and wage increases. Some analysts said that these measures were designed to lift production and rein in the black market, and possibly presaged a genuine market reform of the state-controlled system. Kim has announced plans to import and develop new technologies and ambitions to develop North Korea's fledgling software industry.

In early 2005 Kim Jong-il, age 62, appears firmly in control of North Korea, and is grooming his son, Kim Jong-chul, to succeed him. His eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, was earlier believed to be the designated heir, but he appears to have fallen out of favour after being arrested in New Tokyo International Airport (now Narita International Airport) in Narita, Japan, near Tokyo, in 2001 while traveling on a forged passport.

North Korea does not seem to be in imminent danger of collapse, despite its international and economic difficulties. In these circumstances, Kim could stay in power indefinitely so long as he retains the support of the army.

On April 22 2004 a large explosion occurred at the Ryongchŏn train station several hours after a train passed through the station returning Kim from his visit to China. The disaster killed upwards of 3,000 people. Initially, it was reported that the explosion was caused by an electrical fault; however, the South Korean media reports that there is evidence to suggest the incident may have been an assassination attempt. Given the reclusive nature of the North Korean regime, it is difficult to confirm or refute this possibility with any certainty.

In November 2004, the ITAR-TASS news agency published reports that unnamed foreign diplomats in Pyongyang had observed the removal of portraits of Kim Jong-Il around the country. The North Korean government has vigorously denied these reports. Radiopress, the Japanese radio monitoring agency, reported later that month that North Korean media has stopped referring to Kim by the honorific "dear leader" and that instead Korean Central Broadcast, the Korean Central News Agency and other media have been describing him simply as "general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, chairman of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] National Defense Commission, and supreme commander of the Korean People's Army". It is unclear whether the possible curtailing of Kim's personality cult indicates a struggle within the North Korean leadership or whether it is a deliberate attempt by Kim to moderate his image in the outside world.

International affairs

Missing image
Kim Jong-il with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

Kim Jong-il's government has made some efforts to improve relations with South Korea, and with the election of Kim Dae-jung as South Korean president in 1997 an opportunity for negotiations was created. In June 2000 a summit meeting was held, the first between the leaders of the two Koreas, and it seemed that a genuine thaw, leading to an influx of desperately needed South Korean aid and investment in the North, was possible. But the two sides were subsequently unable to agree on any substantial (as opposed to symbolic) improvement in their relations. (For additional details on the June 2000 summit between the leaders of the two Koreas, see Sunshine Policy.)

Kim's relationship with the United States has been equally difficult. During the Clinton administration, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang in 2000, and extracted a promise from Kim that the DPRK would not pursue its nuclear weapons program if the U.S. would agree to pay for a nuclear energy facility for the DPRK. This deal never came to fruition: the DPRK continued to develop nuclear capabilities, and the U.S. never paid for the substitute facility. The administration of George W. Bush adopted a tougher stance toward the DPRK, accusing it of nuclear blackmail. Bush declared the DPRK to be part of the "Axis of Evil" along with Iran and Baathist Iraq. The Chinese government has attempted to mediate between the DPRK and the United States.

Kim Jong-il with Chinese President  in April 2004
Kim Jong-il with Chinese President Hu Jintao in April 2004

In April 2004 Kim paid an "unofficial visit" to Beijing (though news of the visit leaked out) and met with Chinese leaders who tried to persuade him that a U.S. invasion of North Korea was unlikely and that he should give up the country's nuclear weapons program.

In spite of increased hopes for the resumption of the Five Party Talks on North Korean nuclear disarmament, in February 2005 Kim caught the international community flat-footed with the announcement that North Korea possessed a nuclear arsenal.


Before his accession to power, Kim Jong-il was frequently accused of dishonesty, drunkenness, sexual excess of various kinds and even insanity, particularly in the South Korean press. While this is not an uncommon pattern of behavior in the sons of dictators (see Vasily Stalin, Nicu Ceausescu, Tommy Suharto and Uday and Qusay Hussein), at least some of these accusations seem to have been fabricated by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) of South Korea.

Some of these stories come from defectors from the DPRK, and are considered more credible by some. Kim's former Japanese chef has said in newspaper interviews that the leader of the impoverished North Korea has a 10,000-bottle wine cellar, likes blonde Western women, collects Mazda RX-7 sports cars, stages all-night banquets at which attendance and heavy drinking is compulsory for high officials (this was also a habit of Stalin's), and has a troupe of strippers for his personal entertainment. According to this account Kim once sent his wife and children on a secret trip to Tokyo Disneyland. Kim is also said to be a film fan, owning a collection of some 20,000 video tapes [2] (

Kim has also been a huge fan of Michael Jordan. While citizens of the DPRK are shielded from western media, Kim would watch Jordan's Chicago Bulls at home on satellite television. When Secretary Albright visited the DPRK in 2000, she presented Kim with a basketball signed by Jordan.

In 1978, he ordered the kidnapping of Choe Eun-hee, a South Korean actress, and her ex-husband Shin Sang-ok, a South Korean director, to improve North Korean films. One of these efforts was the 1985 film Pulgasari, a giant-monster film similar to Godzilla. They escaped in 1988, bringing along information about Kim and his propaganda programs.

An image of a more rational Kim, however, appears from time to time in Western, Japanese, and South Korean media. In an interview with a Japanese newspaper several years ago, South Korea's outgoing President Kim Dae-jung jettisoned decades of South Korean tradition by describing Kim Jong-il as "a pragmatic leader with good judgment and knowledge", a sentiment that has been echoed by other foreign officials including Madeleine Albright. According to the Los Angeles Times, a senior South Korean official says Kim is believed to have a genius-level IQ of 150 or 160. An intelligence source describes him as a "computer wizard" who surfs the Internet, is fascinated with new technologies and is determined to develop North Korea's fledgling software industry. It should be noted that these complimentary statements, as with the derogatory remarks, may be equally manufactured to pursue better relations with North Korea.

Some of Kim's eccentricities are well documented. He has a profound fear of flying, and has always travelled by private train when going on state visits to Russia and China. He also wears 10-cm (four-inch) lifts and platform shoes, apparently to disguise his shortness (he is 158 cm or five feet, two inches tall).

Stories that Kim has had four wives do not appear to be true: he is legally married to Kim Young-suk, a wife reportedly chosen for him by Kim Il-sung, although they have been estranged for some years. He has a daughter, Kim Sul-song (born 1974), by her. He has, however, had a succession of relationships with women. His eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, was born to one of these, Sung Hae-Rim, in 1971. His most recent partner (described sometimes as a mistress, sometimes as a wife) was Ko Young-hee, with whom he had another son, Kim Jong-chul, in 1981 or 1982, and there is reported to be a second son as well. In August 2004, the Western media reported rumours that Ko had recently died at the age of 51 from cancer. There have been rumours published in the western press that Kim has gone into seclusion and possibly fallen into a deep depression since the death of Ko but this has been denied by North Korea.

In fiction

Kim is portrayed as a villainous marionette who speaks his l's as r's ("I'm so ronery... nobody takes me seriousry") in the comedy film Team America: World Police (2004). The creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the hit series South Park, sent a gift reel to Kim himself.


  1. Template:Note ( November 19, 2004. North Korea's dear leader less dear

See also

Further reading

  • Michael Breen, Kim Jong-Il: North Korea's Dear Leader, John Wiley and Sons (January, 2004), hardcover, 228 pages, ISBN 0470821310
  • Bradley Martin, Under The Loving Care Of The Fatherly Leader: North Korea And The Kim Dynasty, St. Martins (October, 2004), hardcover, 868 pages, ISBN 0312322216

External links

es:Kim Jong-il fi:Kim Jong Il fr:Kim Jong-iI id:Kim Jong-il is:Kim Jong-il it:Kim Jong-il ja:金正日 ko:김정일 nl:Kim Jong Il no:Kim Jong-il pl:Kim Dzong Il pt:Kim Jong-il sv:Kim Jong Il zh:金正日 zh-min-nan:Kim Chng-ji̍t


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