North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Kim Jong Un

Kim Cho’ng-u’n (Kim Jong Un or Kim Jong-un) is the hereditary successor and youngest son of Kim Cho’ng-il. Cho’ng-u’n currently serves as a vice chairman of the Korean Worker’s Party (KWP) Central Military Commission (CMC) and is a general in the Korean People’s Army (KPA). His identity was publicized in September 2010.

Kim was born in January in 1983 or 1984. By most accounts, he is the second child fathered by Kim Cho’ng-il with his 4th common-law wife, Ko Yo’ng-hu’i. He is Kim Cho’ng-il’s 3rd and youngest son. He has an older brother, Kim Cho’ng-ch’o’l (born September 1981), and a younger sister, Kim Yo’-cho’ng (born 1989). He received his elementary education in DPRK schools. According to two accounts, Kim Cho’ng-u’n started to travel outside the DPRK in 1992 when his mother and aunt took him (and possibly his siblings) on trips to Japan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Kim Cho’ng-u’n studied in Switzerland, including at the International School of Berne, in the 1990s, along with his siblings. Cho’ng-u’n was registered for school from around 1996 to 2000, possibly under the alias Pak U’n. Many accounts say that he was a quiet student, in contrast to his extroverted brother, Cho’ng-ch’o’l, and spent most of his time at home. According to one account Cho’ng-u’n initially experienced trouble comprehending German and was held back two grade levels. By the time he moved back to the DPRK in 2000 or 2001, Cho’ng-u’n had completed most of his secondary education and in addition to Korean could speak German, English and French.

According to several sources, upon his return to the DPRK, Cho’ng-u’n was enrolled at Kim Il-so’ng Military University (KISMU), where he joined his older brother. They were placed at KISMU to be educated in the “chuch’e art of command.” The brothers’ military education was allegedly instigated by their mother Ko Yo’ng-hu’i. Cho’ng-un studied at KISMU until April 2007. One account says that Cho’ng-u’n and Cho’ng-ch’o’l began to attend Kim Cho’ng-il’s field inspections and other domestic visits around 2007.

Accounts differ on Kim Cho’ng-u’n’s job placement within the regime. Some in the ROK P’yongyang watching community have claimed that he has worked in the Central Committee (CC) of the KWP Organization Guidance Department (OGD). Other reports and sources have said he was an officer assigned to the Korean People’s Army (KPA) or held a position in the KPA General Political Department (GPD). Open source reporting in 2009 and 2010 alleged that Kim Cho’ng-u’n worked in the Ministry of State Security (also called the State Security Department) with some responsibilities in OGD.

Kim Cho’ng-u’n increased his presence in 2009. In May that year he posed for a commemorative photograph with his two siblings and CC KWP Secretary Kim Ki-nam, while they attended Kim Cho’ng-il’s visit to the Wo’nsan University of Agriculture. In August of the same year Cho’ng-u’n’s support staff was reportedly created.

Kim Jong Un attending the 3rd Party Conference on 28 September 2010 (Photo: KCNA)

On 27 September 2010, Kim Cho’ng-u’n was promoted to the rank of KPA General. He made his first publicized appearance during the 3rd Party Conference on 28 September 2010. Cho’ng-u’n was elected a member of the Party Central Committee (CC KWP) and a vice chairman of the Party Central Military Commission. During a commemorative photograph session for party conference participants, Cho’ng-u’n was seated in the front row bookended by the Chief of the KPA General Staff to his left and the Minister of the People’s Armed Forces on his right. Kim Cho’ng-u’n was then reported by the DPRK media to have attended two concerts and observed a drill by KPA Unit 851.

Jong Un applauding at a commemorative photograph session held during Kim Jong Il's visit to the Huichon Power Station in November 2010. Seen in attendance with KJU are (L) Hong Sok Hyong (CC KWP Secretary and Director of the CC KWP Planning and Finance Department) and (R) Gen. Hyon Chol Hae (Director, NDC Standing Bureau) (Photo: KCNA)

Kim Cho’ng-u’n attended his first guidance tour in an official capacity, with his father, when the latter visited the “newly built State Theater” and an apartment complex for performers, located in the Central District (Chung-kuyok), Pyongyang. A few days after this visit, Kim Cho’ng-u’n was included as a member of the central leadership (in terms of platform standing or seating order) at an event held to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Korean Workers’ Party in October 2010. He made a total of 34 reported public appearances attending concerts, KPA field inspections and other visits and events with Kim Cho’ng-il and members of the central leadership.

In January 2011 Kim Cho’ng-u’n made his lowest number of public appearances with Kim Cho’ng-il since his September debut, attending four tours of economic sites and one KPA-based concert. He was reported as having attended Kim Cho’ng-il’s first field inspection in 2011, of the command element of KPA Unit 6556, reported on 2 February.

Kim Cho’ng-u’n is approximately180 cm (5’ 9”) tall and weighs 90 kg (198 lbs). Kim Cho’ng-u’n and Kim Cho’ng-ch’o’l used to play basketball with members of their personal security escort.  One account claims that Kim Cho’ng-il encouraged Cho’ng-u’n to gain weight in order to establish an imposing presence.  Cho’ng-u’n began drinking alcohol (primarily whiskey) and smoking cigarettes around the age of 15.

Kim Cho’ng-u’n has been described as “very civilized and intelligent,” “a cool-headed personality” and has “strong political instincts” and “a personality similar to [Kim Cho’ng-il’s] and always took a leadership role.”  One account said that Cho’ng-u’n is extremely deferential and loyal to his father. Kim Cho’ng-nam said that he thought his half-brother was “probably loyal to our father and very faithful.”  On the contrary another account claims that “if Cho’ng-u’n does not like someone he has been known to punch or kick them, even if they are party leaders as senior to him as his father.”

After Kim Ki Nam returned from China in May 2011, he was one of several senior elites greeted by Kim Jong Un

As is common with any of Kim Cho’ng-il’s wives or children, open source reporting on Kim Cho’ng-u’n’s background and current position within the regime is highly speculative, often relying on contradictory rumors. Until his public introduction in September 2010, only fragmentary details were available concerning his youth in the memoirs of Kim Cho’ng-il’s former chef, Kenji Fujimoto, and his education in Europe, through the accounts of other students and school administrators. Among the fragmentary reports of his background are,

  • There are conflicting accounts about when Kim Cho’ng-u’n was born, and to whom. Some accounts say he was born in 1983 and others say 1984. It has been alleged that Kim Cho’ng-u’n’s official birth year was revised to 1982, in the same way that Kim Cho’ng-il’s birth year was moved from 1941 to 1942 to evenly align with Kim Il So’ng’s birth year, 1912. It was also suggested the regime revised Cho’ng-u’n birth year so that he would turn 30 in 2012, the anniversary of Kim Il So’ng’s 100th birthday and the year when the DPRK will declare a “strong and prosperous fatherland.”
  • Most sources have indicated that Cho’ng-u’n is the second child fathered by Kim Cho’ng-il with Ko Yo’ng-hu’i. One rumor that circulated about Cho’ng-u’n’s birth is that he is a son fathered by Kim Cho’ng-u’n with his technical secretary, Kim Ok. According to this account, Cho’ng-u’n was raised as Ko’s son.
  • According to one account, when a childcare provider gave Cho’ng-u’n a dragonfly he ripped off the insect’s wings which reportedly delighted Kim Cho’ng-il
  • Cho’ng-u’n attended schools in Switzerland under the name Pak U’n.  One classmate said, “I heard he was the son of the ambassador…he was very quiet during classes.”  He resided at various points with his brother, sister and mother.  Several accounts have said that Ko Yo’ng-hu’i received medical treatments at French and Swiss hospitals in the 1990s.  It is possible the children attended more than one school during their residence in Europe.  Video footage of Cho’ng-u’n performing in a school recital at a public school in suburban Berne included footage of his younger sister in attendance
  • Kim Cho’ng-u’n’s activity in the regime began during 2006-2007. One account claims he supervised construction at the Pyongyang University of Music in 2006. Some among the ROK P’yonyang watching community say that he was assigned as a section chief in the CC KWP Organization Guidance Department in 2007, after completing his studies at Kim Il So’ng Military University. Other accounts placed him as an officer in the KPA, with one 2007 report claiming Cho’ng-u’n worked at the KPA General Political Department (GPD). If Cho’ng-u’n was in the GPD in 2007 it occurred at the same time as Gen. Kim Cho’ng-gak was appointed to the new position of the senior deputy (1st Vice) Director of GPD
  • According to one report Cho’ng-u’n requested a special unit in State Security at his disposal, from Chang So’ng-t’aek.  According to the same account, this unit assassinated Ri Che-kang with one source saying, “Ri Che-kang was killed by Cho’ng-u’n.”  Ri was a senior deputy director of OGD and a personal aide to Kim Cho’ng-il who died in what the DPRK media reported as a car accident on 2 June 2010
  • During the 3rd Party Conference Kim Cho’ng-u’n was seated between the chief of the Military Security Command [MSC], General Kim Won-hong and General Hyo’n Ch’o’l-hae, who respectively manage security and logistics for Kim Cho’ng-il’s appearances at KPA units
  • In addition to his attendance at events during 9 to 11 October 2010 around the KWP’s 65th anniversary, Kim Cho’ng-u’n’s public profile was enhanced when he participated in events commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Volunteers [CPV] entering the Fatherland Liberation [Korean] War on 23 and 24 October.  Cho’ng-u’n sat with other members of the central leadership during a national report meeting and attended other events with PRC Central Military Commission Vice Chairman, Guo Boxiong, and his travel party. Kim Cho’ng-u’n also attended a wreath-laying ceremony conducted by Kim Cho’ng-il at the CPV cemetery in Hochang-gun, Pyo’ng’an-namdo. Cho’ng-u’n also attended Cho Myo’ng-nok’s funeral with Kim Cho’ng-il and ROK Pyongyang watchers pointed to his ranking on Cho’s funeral committee as an indication of his status in the regime.  Some observers speculated that due both to his position as CMC Vice Chairman and successor, Cho’ng-u’n would fill the vacancy as director of the KPA General Political Department created by Cho’s death
  • Kim Cho’ng-u’n reportedly specialized in artillery at KISMU. One account alleged that Cho’ng-u’n received his lesson behind a screen that prevented his instructors from seeing him. This same account alleged that Cho’ng-u’n conducted inspections of artillery units and managed drills using “time-on-target” tactics. The KPA also employed “time on target” artillery tactics during its 23 November 2010 attack on Yo’np’yo’ng Island, ROK, which underscores a possible connection between the attack and the hereditary succession.


  • General, KPA
  • Member, Party Central Committee
  • Vice Chairman, Party Central Military Commission


  • Born: 8 January 1983 (8 January 1984)
  • 1991-92: Traveled to People’s Republic of China (PRC), Japan
  • 1994: Traveled to Europe
  • 1996-2001: Studied in Berne, Switzerland
  • 2002-2006: Studied at Kim Il-so’ng Military University
  • 2007: Active in central leadership organizations
  • 2010: Promoted, General, KPA
  • 2010: Elected, Member, Party Central Committee
  • 2010: Elected, Vice Chairman, Party Central Military Commission


1Interview data acquired by Michael Madden; “Attempt on Hwang Linked to Succession,” by Kim Ji-hyun, Korea Herald, April 21, 2010; “Heir Apparent Likely Ordered Assassination Plot,” Dong-a Ilbo, April 22, 2010;  “Kim Jong-il’s Son Named to Political Posts,” Associated Press September 29, 2010;  “N. Korean leader names youngest son general,” Yonhap News Agency, September 28, 2010; “Power Struggles and Regency Unlikely,” Daily NK September 28, 2010; “N. Korean Official Confirms Kim Jong Eun Will Succeed Ki Will Succeed Kim Jong Il” Kyodo News October 8, 2010; “Kim Jong Eun Has Been to Japan, Visited Disneyland in 1992 with his mother,” Yomiuri Shimbun, October 11, 2010 ; “More Indicators of North Succession,” by Lee Young-jong, JoongAng Ilbo, March 23, 2010; “Photo Shows N. Korea’s Heir Apparent Began Field Inspection Long Ago,” Yonhap News Agency, October 1, 2010; “Kim Cho’ng-u’n Reportedly had Chairman Kim’s aide Assassinated,” Facta, November 1, 2010 ; “NK is Run by Kim Jong-un since last year,” Korea Times, October 3, 2010; “North Korea To Start Campaign To Promote General Secretary Kim Jong Il’s Sister as Cho’ng-u’n’s ‘Foster Mother’ To Justify Hereditary Succession” Yomiuri Shimbun, November 6, 2010; “NK Heir Apparent Directed Artillery Drills in January,” Dong-a Ilbo, March 2,2010; “Will They Slight Me? Kim Cho’ng-nam Criticizes Dynasty,” Shukan Bunshun, December 9, 2010 ; “The Coming on Stage of Kim Jong Il’s New Wife and the Succession Picture” by Ch’oe So’n-yo’ng  and Chang Yong-hun, Yonhap, July 25, 2006; “North Korea power elite prepare for Kim Jong-un’s succession,” by Kim So-hyun,  Korea Herald, June 23, 2009; “Expose of Five Officials Engaged in Continuing Power Struggle and Mysteries Enshrouding Third Son,” Yukan Fuji, June 17, 2009 ; “Cho’ng-u’n As a Boy; Younger Sister Also Studied Abroad With Him” by Hideki Hiramoto, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 9, 2010; “Kim Jong-un ‘Loves Nukes, Computer Games And Johnny Walker,’” Chosun Ilbo, December 20, 2010; “What Makes Kim Jong-un the DPRK’s New Leader,” Guangming Wang, October 11, 2010

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