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Kim Jong Un’s decade of rule: Purges, nukes, Trump diplomacy

It's been 10 years since Kim Jong Un took power in North Korea after his father suddenly died of a heart attack. As Kim enters his second decade in power, here’s a look at key moments in his rule.

By: AP | Seoul |
Updated: December 14, 2021 9:49:56 am
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks at the ruling party congress in Pyongyang, North Korea on Jan. 8, 2021. (AP)

Friday marks 10 years since Kim Jong Un, the third generation of his family to rule North Korea, took power after his father’s sudden heart attack.

Initially considered inexperienced, Kim quickly showed his ruthless willingness to consolidate his rule by having his powerful uncle and other potential rivals executed or purged. His torrid run of nuclear and missile tests in recent years caused many to fear a second Korean War.

Kim switched gears again and staged landmark nuclear disarmament summits with then-US President Donald Trump, but their diplomacy collapsed because of disputes over US-led sanctions. Now, with the pandemic and sanctions causing deepening problems, Kim has sealed off his country’s borders and tried to fix its struggling economy.

In this June 30, 2019 photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, and U.S. President Donald Trump prepare to shake hands at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea. (AP)

As Kim enters his second decade in power, here’s a look at key moments in his rule.


January 8, 1984: Kim Jong Un is born, the third and youngest of Kim Jong Il’s sons.

September 2010: State media say Kim Jong Un has been made a four-star general in the first public mention of his name.

Then North Korea leader Kim Jong Il, left, walks by his son Kim Jong Un on the balcony as they attend a massive military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the communist nation’s ruling Workers’ Party in Pyongyang, North Korea on Oct. 10, 2010. (AP)

October 2010: Kim Jong Un makes his public debut at a military parade, standing next to his gaunt-looking father on a balcony. He smiles, claps and waves as goose-stepping soldiers, tanks and missiles move past.


December 17, 2011: Kim Jong Il dies at the age of 69, but the news of his death is not made public for two days.

December 19, 2011: Kim Jong Il’s death is announced in a special noon broadcast on state television. Kim Jong Un’s name appears first on the list of the National Funeral Committee, and he is called “great successor” by state media.

Kim Jong Un, center, walks beside the hearse carrying the body of his late father and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during the funeral procession in Pyongyang, North Korea on Dec. 28, 2011. (AP)

December 30, 2011: Kim Jong Un is named supreme commander of the North’s 1.2 million-strong military, the first top job he’s given after his father’s death. In the following months, he takes up leadership posts at other key organizations such as the ruling Workers’ Party and the National Defense Commission.


July 2012: North Korean military chief Ri Yong Ho is dismissed from all high-level posts in what’s seen as Kim Jong Un’s first major purge.

December 2013: Kim’s powerful uncle and former mentor, Jang Song Thaek, is executed for alleged treason, corruption and other charges in what remains the highest-profile such move of Kim’s rule.

May 2015: South Korea’s spy agency says Kim Jong Un ordered his armed forces minister, Hyon Yong Chol, executed with an anti-aircraft gun the month before for complaining about him and sleeping during a meeting Kim presided over.

This undated image distributed by the North Korean government, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at an undisclosed location on Sept. 3, 2017. (AP)

February 2017: Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of Kim Jong Un, is killed at a Malaysian airport after VX nerve agent is smeared on his face. Two Asian women are arrested, but South Korea’s spy service accuses North Korea of being behind the attack. The North denies involvement.


December 2012: North Korea says it has put a satellite into orbit in what outsiders call the North’s first successful long-range rocket launch. The UN views such a launch by North Korea as a banned test of missile technology.

February 2013: North Korea conducts its third nuclear test, the first atomic bomb explosion under Kim’s rule.

2016: North Korea carries out two more nuclear tests and its second successful satellite launch.

July 4, 2017: North Korea conducts its first flight test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which Kim calls the North’s “package of gifts” for US Independence Day. North Korea stages two more ICBM launches in 2017.

In this photo distributed by the North Korean government shows what was said to be the launch of a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile, ICBM, in North Korea on July 4, 2017. (AP)

August 2017: Trump warns that North Korea could “be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” North Korea later responds by threatening to launch a salvo of missiles toward the US territory of Guam.

September 2017: North Korea performs its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date, saying it is a hydrogen bomb designed to top an ICBM.


April 2018: Kim Jong Un holds a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the third summit between the rival countries since their 1945 division. The two leaders hold two more summit talks.

June 2018: Kim Jong Un and Trump meet in Singapore for the first summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Kim vows to work toward achieving complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula without presenting a detailed timetable or roadmap for disarmament.

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands over the military demarcation line at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone on June 30, 2019. (AP)

February 2019: Kim Jong Un meets with Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, for their second summit. The meeting collapses because of disputes over US-led sanctions on North Korea.

June 2019: Kim Jong Un meets Trump at the tense Korean border, but their impromptu third meeting produces no major breakthrough.


June 2020: North Korea destroys an empty inter-Korean liaison office in its territory in a display of anger over a South Korean civilian leafleting campaign. It’s North Korea’s most provocative act since it began nuclear diplomacy with Washington and Seoul in 2018.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, poses with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a photo inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone, South Korea on April 27, 2018. (AP)

January 2021: Kim Jong Un admits his economic development plans have failed during the North’s first Workers’ Party congress in five years. But he also threatens to expand his nuclear arsenal and develop more sophisticated weapons in protest of what he calls US hostility.

April 2021: Kim Jong Un says his country faces its “worst-ever situation” because of the pandemic, persistent sanctions and natural disasters.

October 2021: Kim Jong Un vows to build an “invincible” military during a rare weapons exhibition that includes long-range missiles capable of reaching the US homeland.

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