Kim Jong Un: Lunatic or strategist?

N. Korean leader displays confidence despite youth

An undated picture by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency shows Mr Kim Jong Un inspecting the Wolnae Islet Defence Detachment near the disputed maritime frontier with South Korea. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SOON after the death of Mr Kim Jong Il, the hermit-like dictator who led North Korea from 1994 to 2011, a documentary ran on North Korean state television. It included previously unseen footage that showed him standing beside his son Kim Jong Un, saying: "This guy's got guts!"

Yet the younger Kim may not even have been first in line to take over as North Korea's leader, according to the South Korean magazine SiSa-in. In an investigative piece on the Kim dynasty published last week, it said Mr Kim Jong Il originally wanted his daughter Kim Sol Song to take his place.

That changed when hardline conservative president Lee Myung Bak of South Korea took office in 2008. Mr Kim decided to anoint his son instead, feeling that the latter was better suited to face down Mr Lee.

Although Mr Kim Jong Un inherited the dictatorship when he was only 27 or so - his exact age is not public knowledge - he has displayed confidence that belies his years.

Background story

The "Young Marshal" has overseen a ballistic missile test which failed, a second missile test which shocked the world by succeeding, and a third nuclear test...

But so far, Mr Kim has not launched a single attack. This suggests that careful consideration has gone into his approach; he has shown no hint of a self-destructive nature.