Kim Jong Un again declined to designate his birthday (Jan. 8) as a national holiday in North Korea, and the day passed without significant announcements or public events for the occasion. The observation has led some to believe that Kim Jong Un still feels insecure in regards to his age as a young leader.
In fact, Kim Jong Un has never clearly defined his date of birth during his six-year reign. However, US and South Korean intelligence agencies have identified Kim Jong Un’s birthday as January 8, 1984 through the passport he used while he studied in Switzerland. In an interview with the Washington Post last May, Kim Jong Un’s maternal aunt Ko Yong Suk also claimed that he was born in 1984.
According to sources inside the country, Kim Jong Un’s birthday is thoroughly confidential in North Korea. On January 8, state enterprises, military, and schools hold various celebrations performances and gatherings, creating a temporary holiday spirit, but no one knows the year Kim Jong Un was born.
In an interview with Yonhap News Agency on January 8, Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s ex-deputy ambassador in London who defected to the South commented, “On his fifth year of reign, education materials for lectures to idolize Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un were distributed, but his birthday was not mentioned therein.”
It is being pointed out that the reason may be to mitigate claims that he is too young to be a leader. Some observers say that Kim Jong Un could be hesitating to reveal his birthday because he takes people’s negative criticisms seriously, as some residents are calling him “a child with little experience.”
“Kim Jong Un must lead cadres who are 30-40 years older than himself. If his age is revealed, many cadre members would be forced to reckon with how much younger he is relative to them ,'” Thae explained.
Some argue that he could not disclose his date of birth because he feared it could damage his legitimacy by bringing into question his ties to the mythical Paektu bloodline. In North Korea, the Supreme Leader’s birthday is celebrated with a documentary film or propaganda paper containing the leader’s biography. But for this process, it is possible that the rumors about his birth mother Ko Yong Hui, who was born in Japan, could resurface. In fact, Kim Jong Un has been concealing facts about Ko Yong Hui, fearing it might damage his ruling legitimacy and foster doubts as to whether he is a true descendant of the Paektu bloodline.
Therefore, Kim Jong Un is likely to make his birthday (Jan. 8) official only after ensuring that it will not damage his idolization. Some argue that the North Korean authorities have actually attempted to manipulate Kim Jong Un’s birth year to 1982. The intention was to change the last number of his birth year to ‘2’ in order to match with the birth years of Kim Il Sung (1912) and Kim Jong Il (1942).
There are also observations that Kim Jong Un could not proceed with the same high-level of idolization as the previous leaders due to a lack of significant achievements during his five-year reign. In contrast, elements of regime insecurity have arguably worsened due to the combined effects of fearpolitik, international sanctions, and mismanagement in the wake of widespread floods.
Cho Han Bum, senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification said, “Kim Jong Un has been continuously promoting his image as a leader for the people after declaring his era at the 7th Party Congress. But there have been no economic achievements, with flood and defections worsening the situation.”
Meanwhile, North Korea has been refraining from provocations, possibly in consideration of the new Trump administration in the US and the political situation in South Korea. Such provocations may lead to more undesirable circumstances, including strengthened pressure against the North and internal consolidation of political support within South Korea.