Seoul, South Korea | AFP | North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un ranks among the world’s youngest heads of state, but has some of its most powerful weapons at his disposal.
Sunday’s test of what appeared to be a powerful, full-fledged thermonuclear bomb, marked yet another watershed in Kim’s relentless drive as leader to turn the North into a credible — and feared — nuclear-armed state.
In the process, he has simply shrugged off international warnings and economic sanctions, as well as bellicose threats from US President Donald Trump of possible military strikes if he persists.
When he took over from his late father Kim Jong-Il nearly six years ago, the younger Kim was in his late 20s, considered untested, vulnerable and likely to be manipulated by senior figures.
But he swiftly proved his mettle in dealing harshly — sometimes brutally — with any sign of dissent, even at the highest levels, while maintaining an aggressively provocative stance with the global community.
In 2013 he had influential uncle and mentor, Jang Song-Thaek, executed for treason, while he was also believed to be behind the dramatic assassination of his exiled half-brother Kim Jong-Nam in Malaysia earlier this year.
He has even shown willing to alienate the North’s sole major ally China with his unstinting efforts to advance the country’s nuclear and missile programmes in the face of Beijing’s clear opposition — and has still not visited his neighbour to pay his respects to leader Xi Jinping.
After his father’s death, the young Kim was expected to initially rely on a coterie of powerful aides.
But that expected tutelage was short-lived as Kim started to remove any potential challenges to his authority by executing Jang.
Other purges of high-ranking officials followed and last year Kim had himself appointed as chairman of a new supreme governing commission, underlining his absolute control over every aspect of state policy.