Kim Jong Un was never supposed to lead North Korea. He is the youngest of three brothers, both of whom were groomed to rule before him, and both of whom were shunned by their father, Kim Jong Il. The oldest, Jong Nam, was supposed to rule, but fell out of favor after an attempt to visit Disneyland in Japan. After spending time abroad at school, Jong Nam learned that his country needed to open its borders and he often butted heads with his father, who eventually exiled him in favor of Jong Un, who apparently isn’t as bright as his older half brother.
Jong Un spent time in Switzerland, but his own classmates said he wasn’t a very bright pupil. He had great difficulty learning English and could barely figure out the German language. The only topic he seemed good at, his friends said, was math. He was very good at math and did well in science. Even then, he struggled with his studies, preferring to play video games and participate in basketball games. Classmates describe him as nice, quiet, shy, but personable. He didn’t seem to have anger issues.
It is believed that as a result of his older brother’s “defection to capitalism,” Kim Jong Il removed his youngest son from the Swiss school to reduce exposure to Western influences and began grooming him in earnest to take over upon his death.
Now that his father is gone, speculation is rampant about just who is in control of North Korea. It’s easy to put all the blame on the country’s posturing and aggressive actions on the new young leader, but is he really the one in control here?
Two days ago, ABC News reported that the baby-faced leader isn’t really in charge. Instead, his aunt Kim Kyong-Hui and her husband Jang Sung-Taek are the ones calling the shots. It’s widely known that Kim Jong Il appointed his sister and brother-in-law to guide the young man who was previously a complete unknown to the North Korean populace until just a few years prior to Jong Il’s death. Because of this, the ruling elite have been scrambling to establish Jong Un as a strong, powerful head of state who will stand firm against his country’s enemies.
In the April 3, 2013, Swiss newspaper Blick Am Abend interviewed a former classmate of Jong Un’s. During this brief interview, he reveals that he and other classmates think that Kim Jong Un is a puppet of the regime. He was too affable, too unassuming and shy, to be the kind of person that the regime is portraying him to be.
Kim Jong Nam has even speculated that his youngest brother is a mere figurehead with no real control. In an interview with a Tokyo newspaper in early 2012, he said he expected “the existing ruling elite to follow in the footsteps of my father while keeping the young successor as a symbolic figure.”
So, do Kim Kyong-Hui and Jang Sung-Taek have their nephew under their control? Is he merely a puppet? What would happen if the newest “Dear Leader” were to assert his authority and have these two punished? Could the young leader actually want to open up the North to more trade and international relations? Is he going along with his elders’ plans out of respect for his late father? Are his generals pressuring and manipulating him to force him to take a tough stand?
The United States, South Korea, China, and Japan might be looking at the aunt and uncle and their close inner circle, rather than on Jong Un, as targets because it’s becoming abundantly clear that the new leader isn’t really as tough and desirous of war as he’s being made out to be.
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