Who Was Leader Of North Korea Before Kim Jong Un

Kim Jong-il

Kim Jong-il was the leader of North Korea before Kim Jong Un, and served as supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) from 1994 until his death in 2011. Born to the late father Kim Il-sung, a Korean leader from 1948 until his death in 1994, Kim Jong-il assumed power upon his father’s death, in an example of dynastic succession.
Kim Jong-il was known as the “Dear Leader,” and ruled North Korea with an iron fist. He maintained an advanced surveillance network, and actively sought to limit or eradicate internet usage in order to preserve the existing image of the state. He cut off diplomatic ties with many countries, including South Korea, and imposed stringent economic sanctions on North Koreans to maintain control of supplies, industry and media.
Kim Jong-il has been described as a reclusive leader who rarely appeared in public, and entered international politics primarily as a figure of fear and control. He subscribed to a strict system of “Juche,” which is a blend of Marxism-Leninism and traditional North Korean values that emphasizes the importance of self-reliance and autarchy. Although he was generally seen as oppressive and tyrannical, Kim Jong-il is credited with some economic and political successes, particularly the alleviation of famine.
Kim Jong-il’s policies towards the United States included nuclear ambitions, deliberate poverty and further isolationism as a means of increasing political power. He only met with three US presidents, but never brokered peace or offered policy reform. His refusal to adopt diplomatic solutions to the country’s international issues earned him criticism from allies.
Kim Jong-il continued his father’s tradition of maintaining restrictions on foreign travel, and allowed very few North Korean citizens to travel outside of the country. He also limited media access from outside sources, censorship of literature, and the public worship of the late Kim Il-sung. He divided the country by appointing a separate group to control capital investment, another group to control the media and another group to control military affairs.
It is unclear how Kim Jong-il separately influenced North Korean life and politics, as his governing style and beliefs remained secret until his death. Although it is difficult to estimate the success or failure of his leadership, his death was publicly mourned, noting his impact on North Korean life.

The Legacy

Many analysts argue that Kim Jong-il’s leadership style was ultimately responsible for the North Korean political system’s autocratic rule, while many others point to the intricately interwoven legacies of his father, Kim Il-sung, as well as Park Jung-hee, the Republic of Korea president from 1961-1979.
Under Kim Jong-il’s rule, the three-generation ruling dynasty in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) became increasingly entrenched and consolidated, with the Dear Leader’s focus on maintaining a permanent hold on power through a strict adherence to “guidance from above.” This included utilizing strategies such as a refusal to make diplomatic concessions, engaging in nuclear development to gain tangible international clout, and heightening the threat of war whenever his legitimacy was threatened.
Meanwhile, North Koreans experienced a “glorious” period of prosperity. “The GDP per capita in North Korea has grown year-on-year since 2010”, notes Matthew Reichel, Program Director at Choson Exchange. “Since the new Kim Jong Un has come to power, there have been more open displays of loyalty to the leadership, and North Korea is making efforts toward engaging in international trade and development.”
Despite the country’s deepening diplomatic isolation, Kim Jong-il secured the country’s legitimacy and place in the international arena. “He wasn’t a total evil dictator,” Zia Mian, w Director of the Princeton Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, told DW. “His legacy is that he stabilized the nuclear weapons program of North Korea.”

Kim Jong-Un

Kim Jong-un is the current supreme leader of North Korea and the third son of late Kim Jong Il, the former ruler that presided over the country from 1994 until 2011. Following his father’s death on December 17, 2011, he assumed total control of the country’s military and political system, and has since implemented major policy reforms.
Since coming to power, Kim Jong-un’s leadership style has been significantly different from his father’s. “He appears more open to foreign engagement than his father was,” said Youngshik D. Bong, from Yonsei University in South Korea. During the last 8 years, Kim Jong-un has moved towards a more “multi-channel diplomacy,” meeting with President Trump and other world leaders, hoping to improve diplomatic ties and economic development.
Although his father’s policies concerning the United Nations, the United States, and South Korea had resulted in extreme sanctions, Kim Jong-un’s government has recently taken an approach of increased engagement and dialogue. His course of action is more collaborative and less authoritarian, while still committing to North Korea’s traditional form of socialism.
Kim Jong-un has also opened the North Korean economy by courting foreign investments, while placing greater emphasis on job creation and economic growth. He boasts year-on-year improvements in the country’s GDP, and has relaxed free market restrictions within the country.
Kim Jong-un is not without his critics, however. “He has maintained a harshly repressive environment for people on the ground,” Rachel Minyoung Lee, Senior Analyst at NK News, told DW. “His government suppresses freedom of information, and controls access to the internet for its citizens.”

Consumer Markets

Kim Jong-un’s rule has seen a rise consumer markets and economic activity in North Korea. Compared to his father, the Dear Leader has a more liberal attitude towards consumerism and modern technology such as computers and smart phones.
As part of his campaign to enhance the consumer culture, the North Korean government has opened up the economy to foreign investors and entrepreneurs. This has allowed citizens to engage in clandestine commerce and access consumer goods.
The Kim Jong-un government has also eased restrictions on media consumption and access. Independent media has been liberalised and digital video streaming is widely accessible. According to report by the UN Security Council, North Korea now has anything from “10m digital mobile phones to 200,000 internet connections”.
The same report goes on to note that North Korea has experienced a “remarkable increase in economic activity and a burgeoning consumer economy” under its current leader.

Defectors and Refugees

Despite Kim Jong-un’s effort to improve the North Korean economy, his rule has had an impact on the number of refugees fleeing the country. The North Korean government is notorious for its human rights abuses and the persecution of defectors and refugees.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), North Korea is one of the leading countries when it comes to the repression of refugees. Defectors and refugees face fines, persecution, and even death for escaping the oppressive regime.
It is estimated that between 300,000 and 400,000 North Koreans are living outside the country. Most of them are in China, but there are also many that have settled in the United States, Europe, and South Korea. Most of these refugees and defectors have had to leave their families behind and are subjected to degrading inhumane treatment and torture.

International Relations

Kim Jong-un’s rule has seen a strengthening of North Korean relations with China and a rapprochement with the United States and South Korea. The Dear Leader has entered into negotiations with the United States and South Korea, having secured a summit in 2018 with President Trump.
Since the summit, North Korea has experienced a slight easing of sanctions enforced by the United Nations Security Council and the United States. The North Korean government has also announced that it is open to making a complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula by 2020.
The Kim Jong-un administration has also announced plans to partake in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. North Korean athletes are also set to compete in international tournaments such as the World Championships in Batumi, Georgia.


Since becoming the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un has implemented a series of legislative reforms designed to improve the living standards of his citizens.
In 2017, for example, the Kim Jong-un administration passed a series of labour reforms designed to protect workers and their employment rights. The new laws ended the practise of military service for university-level students and expanded the rights of workers to select their place of work and negotiate contracts.
Other reforms, such as the 2016 revisions to the criminal code, have seen the punishment of certain crimes considerably reduced. Many political prisoners were released, while the North Korean government also repatriated Japanese nationals who were abducted in the 1970’s and 80’s.
The Kim Jong-un government has also overseen the liberalisation of North Korea’s currency and banking regulations, which has resulted in an increase in capital investments and the availability of credit.

Human Rights

Despite Kim Jong-un’s efforts to liberalise North Korea, the Dear Leader’s rule has been marred by grave human rights abuses. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations have criticised Kim Jong-un’s government for the continued detention of political prisoners and the ongoing torture of citizens in prisons.
North Korea is home to some of the most severe human rights abuses in the world, and the Kim Jong-un government has been accused of implementing a system of repression that has led to the abuse and torture of citizens and the imprisonment of dissidents.
The Dear Leader is also accused of carrying out public executions and of imposing draconian restrictions on freedom of expression and access to information. His government is also accused of denying citizens access to essential goods such as food and medicine, which has led to increased levels of malnutrition and disease in many parts of the country.

Cassie Grissom is an American journalist and author living in Seoul, South Korea. She has been studying the Korean peninsula since 2011, and her work focuses on understanding human rights issues in North Korea. In addition to her work as an author, Cassie is an active advocate for human rights in North Korea. She regularly shares stories about life in North Korea with international audiences to raise awareness of the plight of its citizens.

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