Another Kim on the Throne in North Korea? Maybe Not

On Tuesday, the North Korean regime, always opaque and endlessly fascinating, will reveal the identity of its next leader.


The Korean Workers’ Party will hold its first major gathering since 1980 this week. At the 1980 Congress, Kim Jong Il, the current leader, made his debut. Analysts think his son, Kim Jong Un, will be introduced at the event as the next Kim to rule the North.

Not much is known about the autocrat-in-waiting. He is the youngest of the three acknowledged sons of Kim Jong Il. Jong Un may be 27, although no one outside the regime is sure, and he is thought to be just as competitive — and ruthless — as his dad.

He studied in a boarding school in Bern under a pseudonym until he was 15, passing himself off as the son of the driver in the North Korean embassy. He speaks at least four languages, idolizes Michael Jordan and Jean-Claude Van Damme, and likes good food and wine. He is into basketball, rollerblading, skiing, golf, and snowboarding. Analysts think he is chubby just like his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the founder of the North Korean state.

We aren’t even sure what Jong Un looks like now. There is a photo of a North Korean official who may be the young Kim. If that person is indeed Jong Un, then he bears a striking resemblance to his granddad, much more so than his pop.

Many bemoan the fact that we just don’t know that much about the young Kim. Yes, it would be nice if we had more information about him, but there is only one thing we really need to keep in mind at this moment: Jong Un is ill-prepared to take over as North Korea’s third leader.

For one thing, the North Korean regime is a snake pit and Jong Un is a hamster. Kim Il Sung spent more than two decades getting his son ready to rule and was revered when he died of a heart attack in 1994. Kim Jong Il, on the other hand, has now spent just a little over two years grooming his son.