SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- North Korean media calls Kim Jong Un "the greatest-ever commander." Dennis Rodman says he is "a normal guy."
Neither description seems fitting, but little is known about the third-generation leader now locked in a showdown with the U.S. and South Korea that some fear could lead to war.
Before Kim took over from his father, Kim Jong Il, he had barely been seen in public. And even though he's been in charge for more than a year, there's been only a trickle of information about his personality and habits.
The most recent details about the man threatening to send missiles to the U.S. come from Rodman, who made a trip to Pyongyang earlier this year. Here are some tidbits about Kim that have emerged outside the North Korean propaganda machine:
He shares a birthday with Elvis Presley ... maybe: Kim has been reported to be somewhere between 29 and 30 years old. But Kenji Fujimoto, a sushi chef who worked for his family until 2001 and later wrote a tell-all, claims he was born Jan. 8, 1983 — the same date as The King.
He has a first lady: North Korean media revealed Kim was married last July when it announced his fashionable female companion at the opening of an amusement park was his wife, Ri Sol-ju. No one is certain when they tied the knot or whether they have children. South Korean media say she's a former cheerleader and singer.
He was educated in the West: Kim attended a state school in Switzerland from 1998 to 2000, posing as a diplomat's son named Pak Un, according to the Washington Post. "I never saw his father or mother," Principal Peter Burri told the paper. Another official described him as "well-integrated, diligent, ambitious." Kim reportedly later attended the Kim Il Sung Military University in Pyongyang, named after his grandfather.
He's crazy about basketball: He idolized Michael Jordan and was no slouch on the court himself. One high-school buddy described him as "explosive" and a "playmaker." Another said he was fiercely competitive: "He hated to lose."
He's brand-conscious: Teenage buddies recalled he had a collection of expensive Nike sneakers. A recent photo of him plotting military action against the U.S. showed an Apple iMac computer on his desk. His wife supposedly carries a Dior clutch, though some think it's a knock-off.
His hairstyle is unsanctioned: North Korea reportedly has 28 "recommended" hairstyles for its people. Kim's 'do — shaved on the sides, floppy on top — is not among them, according to a Hong Kong TV network that obtained photos of the approved looks.
He's a song-and-dance man: High-school classmates told London's Daily Telegraph his favorite song was "Brother Louie" by the German pop duo Modern Talking. Rodman told London's Sun that Kim digs 1980s disco. "There was an all-girl band playing and we were definitely getting down," Rodman said of their visit.
He's a heavyweight: South Korea's Yonhap news agency has reported that after the 2004 death of his mother from cancer, Kim went on a drinking and eating binge, ballooning to almost 200 pounds. He remains plump in a country ravaged by famine and suffers from diabetes and hypertension.
He's a chip off the old block: Kim looks so much like his grandfather, national founder Kim Il Sung, that North Korea's official news agency had to deny rumors he had gone under the knife. Analysts say he hoped to model himself on his grandfather, who was more liked by his people than Kim's much-feared father.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Recent Korean history reveals a sobering possibility: It may only be a matter of time before North Korea launches a sudden, deadly attack on the South. And perhaps more unsettling, Seoul has vowed that this time, it will respond with an even stronger blow.
Humiliated by past attacks, South Korea has promised — as recently as Tuesday — to hit back hard at the next assault from the North, opening up the prospect that a skirmish could turn into a wider war.
Lost in the headline-making North Korean bluster about nuclear strikes on Washington in response to U.N. sanctions is a single sentence in a North Korean army Supreme Command statement of March 5. It said North Korea "will make a strike of justice at any target anytime as it pleases without limit."
Those words have a chilling link to the recent past, when Pyongyang, angry over perceived slights, took its time before exacting revenge on rival South Korea. Vows of retaliation after naval clashes with South Korea in 1999 and 2009, for example, were followed by more bloodshed, including attacks blamed on North Korea that killed 50 South Koreans in 2010.
Those attacks three years ago "are vivid reminders of the regime's capabilities and intentions," Bruce Klingner, a former U.S. intelligence official now at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, wrote in a recent think tank posting.
Almost a mirror image of the current tensions happened in 2009, when the U.N. approved sanctions over North Korean missile and nuclear tests, and Pyongyang responded with fury. In November of that year, Seoul claimed victory in a sea battle with the North, and Pyongyang vowed revenge.
In March 2010, the Cheonan, a 1,200-ton South Korean warship, exploded and sank in the Yellow Sea, killing 46 sailors. A South Korean-led international investigation found that North Korea torpedoed the ship, a claim Pyongyang denies.
The Cheonan sinking may have been retaliation for the naval defeat four months earlier, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea specialist at Seoul's Dongguk University.
In November 2010, North Korea sent a warning to South Korea to cancel a routine live-fire artillery drill planned on Yeonpyeong Island, which is only seven miles from North Korea and lies in Yellow Sea waters that North Korea claims as its own.
South Korea went ahead with the drills, firing, Seoul says, into waters away from North Korean territory. North Korea sent artillery shells raining down on the island, killing two civilians and two marines.
South Korea responded with artillery fire of its own, but the government of then-President Lee Myung-bak was severely criticized for what was seen as a slow, weak response. Lee, a conservative who infuriated North Korea by ending the previous liberal government's "sunshine policy" of huge aid shipments with few strings attached, vowed massive retaliation if hit again by the North.
The government of newly inaugurated President Park Geun-hye, also a conservative, has made similar comments, though she has also said she will try to build trust with North Korea and explore renewed dialogue and aid shipments.
South Korea's Defense Ministry on Tuesday repeated that it would respond harshly to any future attack from the North. Spokesman Kim Min-seok said there were no signs that North Korea would attack anytime soon, but warned that if it did, it would suffer "much more powerful damage" than whatever it inflicted on South Korea.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Monday visited artillery troops near disputed waters with South Korea and urged them to be on "maximum alert" because war could break out anytime, according to Pyongyang's official media.
If war broke out, the United States would assume control of South Korea's military because of the countries' decades-old alliance that began with the U.S.-led military response to North Korean invaders in 1950. But South Korea has made clear that it has a sovereign right, and a political necessity, to respond strongly to future North Korean attacks.
A clue to when North Korea might attack may be in the timing of the current threats. North Korea is furious over ongoing annual U.S.-South Korean military drills that will continue until the end of April.
Pyongyang is highly unlikely to stage an attack when so much U.S. firepower is assembled, but analysts said it might hit South Korea after the drills end.
"They are quiet when tension is high and state-of-the-art (U.S.) weapons are brought to South Korea for the drills," said Chon Hyun-joon, an analyst at the government-funded Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
If history is any guide, the most likely flashpoint is the Yellow Sea, where North Korea has complained about sea boundaries since the 1950s. The U.S.-led U.N. Command drew the so-called Northern Limit Line after failed attempts to negotiate a border after the Korean War, and Pyongyang says it clearly favors the South by boxing in North Korea close to its shores.
Bloody sea battles in 1999, 2002 and 2009, and North Korea's artillery bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, took place weeks after annual drills by South Korea and the United States, Chon said. In those cases and in the current drills, North Korea's state media reacted to the war games with harsh criticism, calling them preparations for a northward invasion.
North Korea sometimes takes months to follow through on its occasionally cryptic threats or warnings, but it also has acted quickly.
North Korea has attempted a military provocation within weeks of every South Korean presidential inauguration dating back to 1992, according to Victor Cha, a former Asia adviser to President George W. Bush, and Ellen Kim at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington. South Korea's new president was inaugurated Feb. 25.
"Expect a North Korean provocation in the coming weeks," Cha and Kim wrote Thursday.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – When Kim Jong-un inherited the job of North Korean dictator just over a year ago, he promised change.
New national slogans like “no more belt-tightening,” and “great leap forward” replaced “one meal a day” and “arduous march.”
The young leader went rollercoasting with an attractive companion, who later turned out to be his wife, and was seen at skating rinks and concerts.
At home, the result was “the revolution of rising expectations” among his people, said Alexandre Mansourov, a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University in Washington.
But internationally, Mr. Kim continued on the same path as his father and grandfather: dramatic political manoeuvring, ambitious rhetoric and an imperious military strategy, culminating this week in a nuclear test that provoked world outrage.
Confusingly, he appears to be steering North Korea toward an insurmountable contradiction: Will he pursue economic modernization, as his official statements and actions suggest? Or will he continue to antagonize foreign nations with nuclear and long-range missile tests?
“Clearly North Korea wants to show the world and its own people that they are a nuclear power that deserves respect,” said Charles Armstrong, professor of Korean studies at Columbia University in New York.
“But that is in conflict with their desire for economic reforms, which are not going to happen with the kinds of sanctions and international reaction that the tests evoke.”
With his domestic and foreign policies seemingly at odds, experts believe Mr. Kim’s second year as leader could turn sour, especially if China signs on to the United Nations’ sanctions regime.
But his rule began in divisive fashion, with Mr. Kim moving aggressively to show he was his own man. This included reducing the perks given to members of the military.
“He undid a lot of things, starting with the purging of key individuals put in place by his father [Kim Jung-il] to protect and guide him,” said Mr. Mansourov.
“It was surprising how quickly he reasserted the [Workers’ Party of North Korea’s] control over the military. There was a significant rollback of the songun, the ‘military first’ policy, in his first year.”
He also reasserted the “centrality of the cabinet in economy decision-making,” curtailing the role of party members he disagreed with — or feared. The plan was to professionalize economic policy-making, at the expense of the military.
Hope and optimism spread among ordinary North Koreans, who longed for an end to the devastating era of Kim Jong-il, with its widespread famine and poverty.
“He began to open up possibilities for people,” Mr. Mansourov said. “New consumer products and services were introduced to the country, with an increasing ability for people to get their hands on them.”
Access to goods like cellphones and modern clothing, combined with the leader’s apparent focus on improving living standards, caused North Koreans to “expect more attention to their needs, their lives and interests.”
But while Mr. Kim paid lip service to the people’s needs early in his tenure, his actions are increasingly showing foreign policy trumps domestic concerns.-www.shfaqna.com/English