North Korea marks a decade of Kim Jong-un's rule

This has been characterised by meetings with Donald Trump, missile tests and purges of rivals

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North Korea commemorated 10 years since the death of former leader Kim Jong-il on Friday. His son and successor is also marking a decade in control of the insular nation.

Born in January 1984, Kim Jong-un is the youngest son of Kim Jong-il.

After his father's death from a sudden heart attack on December 17, 2011, he assumed power, beginning a period of manoeuvres back and forth with the outside world, as he teased willingness to re-engage.

The young man had barely been seen in public before succeeding his father. In a bid to counter accusations of inexperience, Mr Kim began his rule in ruthless fashion by having his powerful uncle and other potential rivals executed or purged.

At midday on Friday, as a siren blared for three minutes, North Koreans fell silent and bowed in respect for Kim Jong-il.

Cars, trains and ships blew their horns, national flags were lowered to half-staff and masses of people climbed Mansu Hill Grand Monument, in the capital Pyongyang. There they laid flowers and bowed before giant statues of Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung, founder of North Korea and its first ruler.

As parades mark 10 years since the death of his father, here is a look at the main features Kim Jong-un's rule so far:

Nuclear weapons

An arsenal of as many as 60 nuclear weapons, by some estimates, with the means to add as many as 18 more a year, has allowed Mr Kim to solidify domestic unity and achieve some measure of the global prestige he’s long coveted.

It has also flummoxed Washington and its allies by building what Pyongyang claims is a credible deterrent against US hostility.

Crushing UN sanctions over that weapons build-up may be giving Mr Kim the hardest moment of his rule, observers say, but those weapons are no closer to being wrenched away by outside negotiators than they were when his father died.

“Nuclear weapons are a magic wand for North Korea,” said Kim Tae-woo, former head of South Korea's Korea Institute for National Unification.

“North Korea is one of the world’s poorest countries, but it controls the relationship with South Korea because it has nukes. If it wasn’t for its nuclear bombs, how could Pyongyang sit down for talks with the United States?”

Mr Kim has staged an unusually large number of weapons tests. And four of North Korea’s six nuclear test explosions and all of its three intercontinental ballistic missile tests have happened during his rule.

In late 2017, Mr Kim claimed to have nuclear missiles capable of reaching the American homeland. While Mr Kim has suspended the testing of nuclear devices and long-range missiles for three years, he has ramped up testing of shorter-range weapons threatening US allies South Korea and Japan.

Clearing opposition

A think tank run by South Korea’s spy agency said in a 2016 report that Mr Kim executed or purged about 340 people during the first five years of his rule.

That included the 2013 execution of his powerful uncle, Jang Song-thaek, and the 2012 purging of military chief Ri Yong-ho, both of whom helped shepherd Mr Kim into power.


The private sector has overtaken state-led agents to become North Korea's biggest economic force over the past decade, a sign of booming markets allowed by Mr Kim, South Korea's Unification Ministry said on Thursday.

While the isolated country suffered from coronavirus lockdowns and sanctions over its weapons programmes, private activity has grown from about 28 per cent a decade ago to make up nearly 38 per cent of the economy, the ministry said in the report.

Government-led programmes, meanwhile, have shrunk to make up 29 per cent of the economy, down from 37 per cent, while around 9 per cent is from entities that work in both state and private sectors, up from 7 per cent.

The number of merchants has also soared some four-fold to hit an all-time high at about 1,368 in 2018, from 338 in 2011, before sharply dropping amid economic hardships and the pandemic.

“As marketisation continues, the proportion of private economy is on a long-term upwards trend,” the ministry said. “People's activities are shaping into a dual way, state and private economy.”

North Korea’s trade with China, its biggest trading partner and an economic pipeline, shrank by about 80 per cent last year, before it plunged again by two-thirds in the first nine months of this year.

Last year, the North’s economy suffered its biggest contraction since 1997 while its grain production also dropped to its lowest level since Mr Kim took office, according to South Korean government estimates.

Diplomatic inroads

Watch rare footage from the most secretive capital in the world, Pyongyang

Watch rare footage from the most secretive capital in the world, Pyongyang

Mr Kim held a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in the third summit between the rival countries since their 1945 division in 2018. The two leaders later held two more summit talks.

Mr Kim and met then US president Donald Trump, in Singapore for the first summit between the leaders of the US and North Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The North Korean leader vowed to work towards achieving complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

The relationship quickly soured. Their diplomacy fell apart after their second summit in February 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demand for a major removal of sanctions in exchange for dismantling an ageing nuclear facility, which would have amounted to a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

The two sides have not met publicly since a failed follow-up meeting between working-level officials in October of that year.

Two months after that, Mr Kim vowed at a domestic political conference to further expand his nuclear arsenal in the face of “gangster-like” US pressure, urging his people to stay resilient in the struggle for economic self-reliance.

Updated: December 17, 2021, 1:34 PM