With recent nuclear tests carried out by the regime of Kim Jong-un, there is more scrutiny than perhaps ever before put on the Supreme Leader of North Korea. As recently as Monday, the North Korean military fired as many as five projectiles (type of projectiles is unknown) into the sea of the country's east coast in what was described by DPRK officials as a "Regular military exercise." Though many of his actions and threats mirror those of his infamous father, one can't help but wonder what his influences are, especially if he spent a good part of his childhood in Switzerland.
According to various reports, Kim Jong-un may have spent as many as nine years in Switzerland between late 1991 and early 2001. This would mean that Kim would have spent some of his most formative years, his pre-teen to late teenage years, in a Western society. It is possible that the experiences he may have had and the culture that he was exposed to will allow the young tyrant to be more gracious towards the west in the future and hopefully make Kim Jong-un a more plausible option for needed negotiations and dialogues in the years to come.
This may seem unlikely due to his aggressive hostility to capitalist countries such as South Korea and the United States. However it is possible that he may be trying to put up an aggressive front for the world to see and to live up to the legacies of his father and grandfather. If this is in fact the case, then we may see a more cooperative and less threatening Kim Jong-un.
Allegedly, little Kim Jong-un attended the International School of Berne, an English-language school 15 minutes outside of the Swiss capital. While in Switzerland, Kim lived under the false name, Pak Un, and was described as a shy boy who loved sports, especially basketball and professional wrestling. He was a big fan of Michael Jordan and Jean-Claude Van Damme, wore Nike sneakers, jeans and t-shirts to class and owned a TV, Sony PlayStation and many kung-fu movies with Jackie Chan as one of his favorite movie stars. He befriended students from Portugal, Switzerland, and even the United States.
Like many teenagers, Kim Jong-un was a struggling student who skipped class and preferred to play basketball instead. He liked to talk about girls and is even rumored to have gone to many parties where underage drinking occurred, though it has been noted that nobody at these parties had actually witnessed him drink. Kim sounded more like a typical high school senior in the United States than the totalitarian leader that he became.
It appears that the late Kim Jong-Il did not have as tight of a grip over his own kids as he had over his country. Originally, it was thought that Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of Kim Jong-Il, was to be the next leader. However, after attempting to escape North Korea with a fake passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland in 2001, Nam fell out of favor. Since, Kim Jong-un became the new head of state in North Korea, he has show great interest in basketball, especially the NBA. So much so, that he invited Dennis Rodman to visit North Korea in February, and since the non-U.S. endorsed visit, he has allegedly become friends with Rodman, who is allegedly supposed to visit again in August.
So what does this mean for his regime? Though Kim Jong-un continues to act as a threat to security in Asia, there is a chance of a brighter future. In 1971, the invitation of the United States Ping Pong team to China in what became known as "ping pong diplomacy," helped open the doors of the then hermit country of China and ushered in a new era of negotiations and modernization.
Rodman's visits could be the start of a new acceptance of foreign influences in North Korea. Rodman recently tweeted asking his new buddy Kim Jong-un to "do him a solid" by releasing a South Korean-American prisoner. Though there are no further developments on this particular story, it is impossible to deny that it is in its most basic form, a negotiation. It is far more likely that the leader will listen to a former NBA star than Washington, even if it is Dennis Rodman. Though undoubtedly influenced by the ideologies of his powerful father, it is also very possible that Kim Jong-un has a soft spot for certain aspects of Western culture which might hopefully allow for a more peaceful relationship with the United States in the future. Kim Jong-un will not want to attempt to launch missiles at the United States if it disrupts the NBA season and kills his favorite athletes.