The dark side of Kim Jong Un

The dark side of Kim Jong Un

With the execution of his uncle last week, Mr Kim Jong Un, North Korea's 30-year-old leader, displayed a frightening ruthlessness.

But he had already shown himself to be a risk-taker committed to a military-first policy, although he cultivates a more attractive public persona than his late father did.

Since assuming power two years ago, Mr Kim has projected a public image that makes a refreshing change from that of his father Kim Jong Il.

Unlike Kim Senior, who travelled only to China or Russia and in a personal train, Kim Junior studied in Switzerland. Though overweight, Mr Kim is good-looking, sporting a sidewall hairdo and a bright grin - far removed from his bouffant-topped and sour- faced father. The younger Kim usually favours an old-fashioned tunic, but has also been spotted with a smartphone.

Kim Jong Il was rarely seen in public except when waving and clapping, in regal fashion, while overseeing military parades. His son is much more of a natural politician - he has been photographed being fawned over by female soldiers, riding a new roller coaster and talking to children.

Any notion that this was a breath of fresh air in a state that started out as a Stalinist dictatorship, with grandfather Kim Il Sung at the helm, and that has since transformed into a militaristic dynasty, was dispelled by Mr Kim's swift execution of his uncle Jang Song Thaek after a cursory trial, and other actions.

The cultivation of two contradictory images could be deliberate: The high-profile "nice guy" builds loyalty, while the equally high-profile "nasty guy" generates fear.

"He is very active, showing his leadership openly," said Mr Choi Jin Wook of the Korea Institute of National Unification in Seoul. "He has been trying to stabilise his power and make people loyal to him and scared of him."

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