Kim Jong Il

/kim" jong" il"/, n.
born 1942, president of North Korea since 1997; son of Kim Il Sung.

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or Kim Chong Il

born Feb. 16, 1941, Siberia, Russia, U.S.S.R.

Son of Kim Il-sung.

He was designated his father's successor in 1980 and became North Korea's de facto leader on his father's death in 1994. Known in North Korea as the Dear Leader, he makes few public appearances. After the onset of a severe famine (1995–98), he began to relax his country's extreme isolationism.

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▪ 1995

      In North Korea he was hailed as "Dear Leader," "Guiding Focus," "Bright Star of the Country," and, following his father's death, "Great Successor." Elsewhere, however, people often did not know what to believe about him. Although his true nature and intentions remained obscure, Kim Jong Il was set to take control of the world's most isolated, secretive, and unpredictable nation and to fulfill the dynastic aspirations of his father, Kim Il Sung, the only leader that North Korea had ever known.

      Legends in North Korea surrounding his birth indicated the status accorded Kim Jong Il. It was said that he was born on Feb. 16, 1942, in a log cabin on Mount Paekdu (a sacred site that in popular myth was the birthplace of the first Koreans). At the time, his father was coordinating the guerrilla war against the Japanese. His birth, allegedly, had been foretold by a swallow from heaven. The day he was born a single star hung over the mountain, and the moment was announced by the appearance of a double rainbow. (The lone star over Mount Paekdu became a visual symbol of the younger Kim, and the cabin was designated as a pilgrimage site.)

      It was thought, however, that Kim Jong Il actually was born in Khabarovsk, Siberia, U.S.S.R., where his parents had sought refuge from the invading Japanese. Kim was his father's firstborn son. When he was six his father took control of North Korea; the following year his mother died. Kim attended elite schools in the capital city of Pyongyang while his father continued to consolidate power and fostered the personality cult that would persist until his death.

      After Kim graduated from Kim Il Sung University, Pyongyang, in 1964, he went to work for the Korean Workers' (communist) Party. In 1975 he became a member of the Politburo. His star rose in 1980 when he was officially designated his father's successor. In 1991 he was named supreme commander of the armed forces. Kim reportedly had been running the nation's day-to-day operations for some time before his father's death in July 1994.

      Kim Jong Il took centre stage at a time when the nation's economy was contracting, its funds depleted, and its nuclear program facing international condemnation. Kim had previously avoided contact with foreign dignitaries, had rarely traveled outside of the country, and had not been part of the high-level negotiations that revolved around the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Rumours, disinformation, and speculation depicted Kim as either a bloodthirsty terrorist whose nefarious deeds included a 1983 bombing in Burma (now Myanmar) that killed 17 South Korean government officials, as a power-hungry autocrat who nonetheless liked to spend time partying, or as an amicable man given to making self-deprecating comments on his diminutive stature.

      Kim dropped from sight after his father's funeral, fueling rumours that he was unable to consolidate power or was seriously ill following a car accident—or both. At year's end he had not yet formally taken control.

      (CHERYL L. COLLINS)

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▪ North Korean political leader
also spelled  Kim Chong Il 
born Feb. 16, 1941, Siberia, Russia, U.S.S.R.
 
 North Korean politician, son of the former North Korean premier and (communist) Korean Workers' Party (KWP) chairman Kim Il-sung, and successor to his father as ruler of North Korea (Korea, North).

      The official North Korean version of Kim Jong Il's life, different from the biography documented elsewhere, says that he was born at a guerrilla base camp on Mount Paektu, the highest point on the Korean peninsula; it attributes many precocious abilities to him; and it claims his birth was accompanied by such auspicious signs as the appearance of a double rainbow in the sky. During the Korean War (1950–53) he was placed in safety in northeastern China ( Manchuria) by his father, although the official biography does not mention the episode. After attending a pilot's training college in East Germany (Germany) for two years, he graduated in 1963 from Kim Il-sung University. He served in numerous routine posts in the KWP before becoming his father's secretary. He worked closely with his father in the 1967 party purge and then was assigned several important jobs. Kim was appointed in September 1973 to the powerful position of party secretary in charge of organization, propaganda, and agitation.

      Kim was officially designated his father's successor in October 1980, was given command of the armed forces in 1990–91, and held high-ranking posts on the Central Committee, in the Politburo, and in the Party Secretariat. When Kim Il-sung died of a heart attack in 1994, Kim Jong Il became North Korea's de facto leader. He was named chairman of the KWP in October 1997, and in September 1998 he formally assumed the country's highest post. Since the position of president had been eliminated by the Supreme People's Assembly, which reserved for Kim Il-sung the posthumous title of “eternal president,” the younger Kim was reelected chairman of the National Defense Commission, an office whose powers were expanded.

      During his leadership of the country, Kim built on the mystique already surrounding his father and himself. Conflicting information circulated regarding his personal life, most of it unreliable and—perhaps deliberately—serving to add to the mystery. It was known that Kim took an interest in the arts and encouraged greater creativity in literature and film, although the products remained primarily propaganda tools. A well-known film buff, Kim headed a movie studio before ascending to the country's leadership. It produced works celebrating socialist values, Kim Il-sung and his national policy of self-reliance (juche), and, later, Kim Jong Il himself and his “military first” (sŏngun chŏngch'i) policy. As part of his desire to create better films, in the late 1970s the younger Kim had a South Korean film director, Shin Sang-ok, and his wife, actress Choi Eun-hee, abducted to the north, where they were pressed into service until their 1986 escape.

      After becoming North Korea's leader, and with his country facing a struggling economy and a famine, Kim made moves toward amending North Korea's long-standing policy of isolationism. Throughout the late 1990s and the early 21st century, Kim sought to improve ties with a number of countries. In addition, he appeared to be abiding by the terms of a 1994 agreement (called the Agreed Framework) with the United States in which North Korea would dismantle its own nuclear program in return for arranging for the construction by an outside party of two nuclear reactors capable of producing electric power. South Korea was the primary contractor on the project.

      Kim halted testing of a long-range missile in 1999 after the United States agreed to ease its economic sanctions against North Korea, and in June 2000 Kim met with South Korean leader Kim Dae Jung. In what was the first summit between leaders of the two countries, an agreement was reached to take steps toward reunification. Ties were also established with Australia and Italy.

      At the same time, however, the Agreed Framework began falling apart in the face of North Korea's demonstrated reluctance to adhere to its terms. Relations with the United States deteriorated greatly in 2002, after Pres. George W. Bush (Bush, George W.) characterized Kim's regime as part of an “axis of evil” (along with Iran and Iraq). It was suspected that North Korea was enriching uranium at one of the nuclear facilities whose activities were supposedly frozen by the terms of the Agreed Framework, and in December 2002 Kim expelled International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from the site. The following year Kim announced that North Korea was pulling out of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Treaty on the) and planning on developing nuclear weapons (nuclear weapon). The move was widely seen as a negotiating tactic to secure economic aid and a nonaggression pact from the United States. In 2005 North Korea claimed it was capable of building a nuclear weapon, and in October 2006 the country announced that it had conducted an underground test of such a weapon. Talks were suspended for several years, but another deal was struck in late 2007. The ability to verify North Korea's compliance remained an international issue.

      The December 2007 election of Lee Myung-bak as South Korean president began another deterioration in inter-Korean relations as Lee took a harder line with his North Korean counterpart. In 2008 North Korea announced that it planned to close the land border and all nonmilitary telephone links with South Korea.

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Universalium. 2010.

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