Kim Jong Un's 10 years in power: A look back at his reign in North Korea

WION Web Team
NEW DELHIUpdated: Dec 15, 2021, 01:49 PM IST

After a graffiti appeared calling Kim Jong Un, a 'son of a b****', North Korean officials are matching samples of handwriting of thousands of residents in Pyongyang (file photo). Photograph:(Reuters)

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Unlike most of his contemporaries, Kim has no qualms about elections or term limits, and with his age on his side (he is just in his late 30s), he may expect to stay in government for decades if his health holds up.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is celebrating his tenth year in office this week.He is now one of the world's most experienced leaders.

Kim Jong Un is one of the few world leaders who is both highly observed and shrouded in mystery.

Since taking power in 2011, the dictator has been surrounded by political and diplomatic intrigue.

Kim has presented several faces to an insatiably curious world since becoming supreme power a decade ago, but while the image evolves, perhaps the most illuminating way to examine Kim is through his constant pursuit of a nuclear weapons programme aimed against America and its allies.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Kim has no qualms about elections or term limits, and with his age on his side (he is just in his late 30s), he may expect to stay in government for decades if his health holds up.

Let's take a look at his career's tendencies and most talked-about behaviours: 

Obsession with nuclear weapons

According to some estimates, Kim now has a nuclear arsenal of up to 60 nuclear weapons, with the ability to add up to 18 more per year. This has allowed him to consolidate domestic unity and gain some of the worldwide status he's long desired.

Pyongyang has also perplexed Washington and its allies by constructing what Pyongyang thinks is a real deterrent to US hostility.

Observers argue that despite the fact that U.N. sanctions over the weapons build-up and pandemic-related challenges are putting Kim's leadership to the test, the weapons are no closer to being taken away by outside negotiators than they were when Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, died on Dec. 17, 2011.

Kim has staged an unusually large number of weapons tests. And four of North Korea’s six nuclear test explosions and all of its three intercontinental ballistic missile tests have happened during Kim’s rule.

Executions and purges in the public eye

Instead, Kim engineered a series of high-profile executions and purges, removing prospective challengers and restoring the kind of absolute control held by his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the state's founder.

In a 2016 investigation, a think tank run by South Korea's spy agency claimed that during Kim's first five years in power, he executed or purged around 340 people.

This included the assassination of his powerful uncle, Jang Song Thaek, in 2013 and the purge of military head Ri Yong Ho in 2012, both of whom assisted Kim in gaining power.

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Diplomatic Failure on a Global Scale

When Kim failed to persuade Trump to lift strong UN sanctions imposed after his series of nuclear tests in 2016-17, international diplomacy collapsed in 2019.

Since then, Kim has threatened to expand his nuclear arsenal and deploy high-tech weapons against the US and its allies.

A second Trump-Kim meeting in Hanoi failed due to disagreements about sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be ready to give up in exchange.

Trump flew out of Hanoi fast, and Kim returned home empty-handed after a 60-hour train ride.

A follow-up summit in the Demilitarized Zone, which separates the Korean peninsula from the rest of the world, failed to break the impasse.

Also read | Kim Jong-un's bizarre food strategy: Orders North Koreans to eat 'delicious' black swans

Failure of the economy

Even before the sanctions, North Korea's state-run economy had been mismanaged for decades, and its people had been suffering from chronic food shortages.

In terms of economics, North Korea is at the bottom of the international food chain. 

Many foreigners questioned whether North Korea could survive with an unproven, little-known 27-year-old in leadership in late 2011.

Because of his infancy and childhood education in Switzerland, many believed that Kim would push for economic reforms and possibly denuclearization.

Some speculated that Kim was merely a figurehead, reliant on senior officials appointed by his father, and that North Korea would experience political unrest.

In the first several years, Kim also left aside his father's characteristic "military-first" strategy, restoring the ruling Workers' Party's customary control over the army, and engineering minor but steady economic growth. 

North Korea is already dealing with food shortages, flooding, and a faltering economy. The most pressing question is how Kim Jong Un will keep the country running despite these flaws.

(With inputs from agencies)