North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's death suddenly put his untested son Jong-un in charge of the Stalinist country. But little is known about the podgy 29-year old. Even his name was widely spelled wrong at his first public appearance in September last year.
The Unification Ministry's Who's Who of key North Korean officials has only a few lines as to the information about Kim Jong-un. His voice has never been heard outside the North.
◆ Kim Jong-il's Favorite Son
The regime says Kim Jong-un was born on Jan. 8, 1982 to Ko Yong-hui, Kim Jong-il's third wife. A Korean-Japanese dancer who moved to the North in 1961, Ko worked for the Mansudae Art Troupe in Pyongyang in the 1970s.
Since his childhood, Kim Jong-un has reportedly been highly competitive. He was his father's favorite son because he is an all-round athlete, has good leadership skills, and looks a little like his grandfather, the regime founder Kim Il-sung.
He attended an international school in Bern, Switzerland under the false name of "Pak Un" from 1998 until 2000. There he was interested in basketball, films, and computers. From 2002 to 2007 he attended Kim Il-sung Military University, a five-year college for officers.
Kim began receiving leadership training after he returned from Switzerland, North Korea experts speculate.
◆ Favored Over His Brothers
Kim Jong-un officially emerged as the successor to his father when he was made a four-star general and a vice chairman of the Workers Party's Central Military Commission in September last year. But rumors that he was being groomed for the leadership surfaced in 2008, when his father had a stroke.
Kim Jong-il's eldest son Jong-nam by his first wife, the movie actress Song Hye-rim who died in 2002, fell out of favor in 2001, when he was arrested at Narita Airport in Tokyo traveling on a false passport. Kim Jong-chol, Jong-un's elder brother by the same mother, was pushed out of the leadership race because he is said to be effeminate.
Kim Jong-il reportedly called him a "sissy" and found him too passive and without ambition.
The regime has concentrated its energy on boosting the personality cult surrounding Jong-un since last year. It invited CNN and other international media to a military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the Workers Party last year, where they showed him side-by-side with his father on the platform.
But many North Koreans privately consider Kim junior a lightweight. To overcome that perception, he has apparently been imitating Kim Il-sung's clothing and hairstyle.
◆ Bad Temper
Prof. Kim Yong-hyun of Dongguk University said Kim Jong-un is aggressive and has leadership skills and charisma.
He is also said to have a bad temper. Kenji Fujimoto, Kim Jong-il's former sushi chef, said, "Jong-un was different from others even when he played basketball. After games, Jong-chol just said goodbye to his friends and left. But Jong-un called his friends together and analyzed games just like a coach."
Chung Sung-jang of the Sejong Institute said Kim Jong-un is taking a tough line toward South Korea. "But he is known to be more enthusiastic about reform and opening than his father due to his experience as a student in Switzerland."