What Kim Jong-un wants for his birthday

North Korea’s dictator (probably) turns 31 today.


As NK ruler Kim Jong-un celebrates his birthday , what would you say he would like to have as a birthday present, and why? Is it anything what he probably lacks or is Dennis Rodman a sufficient present for him?


James Hoare, Former British Chargé d’affaires in Pyongyang, former President of British Association of Korean Studies

We really do not know what he plans/wants. In many ways, he remains as much of an enigma at the end of his first year as he was at the beginning. We do not know if he is really running the place or if he is being ran by others.

If he is in charge, I suspect that he does not want anybody else telling him what to do. He is the leader and if others thought that they could control him, the treatment of Jang Sang Taek will have shown that he is not to be crossed. No doubt he would also like more money to do the things he appears to enjoy doing, like modernizing funfairs, building ski resorts and developing rockets. But if he is not in charge, who knows?

Virginie Grzelczyk, Lecturer in International Relations, Aston University

Well I think short of wanting a pony (every kid at some point want one it seems) he would be very interested in receiving a congratulatory phone call from Barack Obama on his birthday (and NOT a call that ask for the denuclearisation of the peninsula of course. It

seems to me that Kim Jong Un is highly invested in developing a new image of North Korea to the world (especially when it comes to advances in technology to seduce a number of underdeveloped and developing countries).

While Dennis Rodman is a nice proxy to an American experience, he is yet not the president (and hopefully won’t become president! Then again, sportsmen and celebrities being elected in high offices can happen – see Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming the Governator of California some years back.)

Jennifer Lind, Assistant Professor of Government, Dartmouth College

Kim Jong Un is the man who has everything– palaces, all the cognac he can drink, and even his own basketball team (thanks to Dennis Rodman). So what could Kim possibly want? The answer is another year. Another year of avoiding the common fate of dictators and their families — that is, facing a firing squad or being strung up on a gallows in a coup or revolution.

Will he get it? That’s the big question. Three generations of Kims have so far managed to stay off the gallows by using powerful tools of authoritarian control. But, as we note, even the most powerful tools sometimes do fail.

Keith Howard, Professor, Centre of Korean Studies, SOAS, University of London

I guess the answer depends on how you read the tea-leaves about what really happened last month, and the rumours now circulating about KJU’s aunt committing suicide (or was it just illness, as most commentators had been assuming?). KJU was, at the very least, forced to act in a way that breaks many East Asian traditions about familial responsibilities, etc; whether he decided to do so (whether drunk at the time, or what?) or whether the decision was taken by others and he had to go along with it, is still to be discerned. Whether he is now being pushed back into the ‘military first’ policy having tried to break senior military ranks (or was he pushed to do this?) is also a major question. Ultimately, he cannot be particularly happy with the way things are going.

Having a retired basketball star as your confidante really doesn’t give much reason for joy, and so even though Rodman is in NK along with a team, it has little relevance for the political/military/family matters that will cloud KJU’s birthday celebrations. There is nothing to be gained diplomatically, so far as we can tell from the American side of things, and Paddy Power pulled their sponsorship, so apart from a friendly game, nothing else is achieved.

What would he like as a birthday present? The head of a pizza maker on a plate, quite possibly, for spreading the rumour about his aunt. Or to turn the clock back some months, to when relations with China seemed to be going smoothly, and the military seemed to be manageable.

Brian Myers, Associate Professor/Department Chair, Dongseo University

What Kim Jong Un wants for his birthday and what he needs are two different things. If I was someone close to him in the regime, I would give him a book on the proper use of propaganda, because in his two years since taking power, Kim Jong Un has demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding in this area. Laughing in public weeks after his father’s death; flaunting his young wife at formal occasions; allowing her to walk around without the Kim Il Sung badge; and now consorting with an American basketball player who clearly shows him no respect: all of these things are bad enough from a propaganda perspective. But making such a public spectacle out of the purge of his uncle was downright catastrophic, an error from which his regime’s charisma may never recover. So he should get a propaganda manual for his birthday. But I expect he will get presents of a very different nature!


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