He’s a trash talker with a ruthless streak, who only got the job because his eldest half-brother was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

He’s Kim Jong-un and, if yesterday’s provocative shelling attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong is any guide, North Korea’s leader-in-waiting may not be too far removed from his father, Kim Jong-il.

Known as the ‘Brilliant Comrade’, Kim Jong-un rose to heir apparent in September, after news filtered out of Pyongyang that ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-il had chosen his youngest son as successor of the secretive dictatorship.


The decision to select Jong-un came as a surprise to some. Especially considering others — including his eldest half-brother, the casino-loving playboy Kim Jong-nam, who was detained on a forged Dominican Republican passport in Japan while en route to Tokyo Disneyland — were believed to be more favoured for the role.

According to reports, Kim Jong-un is the offspring of his father’s third marriage and his supposedly favourite wife. He studied in Switzerland and Germany under a pseudonym, where fellow students said he was known for a fondness for trash talk on the basketball court. Kenji Fujimoto, Kim Jong-il’s personal sushi chef, once said the successor “has superb physical gifts, is a big drinker and never admits defeat”.

Kim Jong-un’s youth — he is reportedly in his mid-20s, but no one is sure of an exact age — was thought to have counted against him, but measures have been taken by the central committee to ensure a nation that values seniority will accept the leadership of the inexperienced heir.

Kimjongun (1)

Reports have filtered out of the secretive state that, since his rise to next-in-line, Kim Jong-un has been trying to shore up his support with the military. He has held meetings with members of the Internal Security Forces, and has purged large sections of senior party and military officials to help cement his power. A directive was recently handed down to start calling him ‘Young Leader‘, while his portrait is being hung on the walls of hotels and government buildings in an attempt to idolise him.

That’s where the attack on Yeonpyeong Island comes in.

Kim Jong-il, the enigmatic dictator who has kept his people in poverty while pursuing Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, would no doubt have a major say in any such attack on South Korea. The North has been crippled by international sanctions aimed at curbing its military ambitions, yet still it continues to provoke its southern neighbour.Yesterday’s attack follows on from a torpedo raid in March which killed 46 South Korean sailors.

But Kim Jong-il’s days as leader are numbered. As he approaches his 70th birthday it won’t be long before he hands power to the next generation.

Some have said this latest attack has all the hallmarks of a future leader trying to prove his worth to a regime that prides itself on its military might. South Korean officials have already expressed concern at Kim Jong-un’s early focus on military power.

With the implications of North Korea’s latest move still unclear, the future ambitions of a brash, young leader — potentially backed by nuclear weapons — may be worth thinking about as well.

Peter Fray

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