By Asia analyst Angie Knox
Following in the footsteps of his father Kim Il-sung
Outside North Korea, little was known about Kim Jong-il when he was
thrust into the limelight on the death of his father.
With a reputation as a vain playboy, many analysts predicted the
imminent collapse of the communist regime.
But 13 years on, the short bespectacled younger Kim is still in charge -
although he remains very much a mystery.
He has rarely appeared or spoken in public, and until a secretive trip
to Beijing at the beginning of June it is thought he had not travelled
outside North Korea since the 1980s.
New cult emerging
Within North Korea it's a different story. Kim Jong-il is regularly
hailed by the media as the "peerless leader" and "the great successor to
the revolutionary cause".
A rare public appearance
On the intellectual front, he's credited with having extended Kim Il-sung's
personal philosophy of Juche, or self-reliance, which has been the
guiding light for North Korea's development.
His other feats include writing six operas in two years, and personally
designing the huge Juche tower in Pyongyang.
The cult surrounding Kim Jong-il extends even to his birth. He was born
in Siberia in 1941 during Kim Il-sung's period of exile in the former
But according to official North Korean accounts, he was born in a log
cabin at his father's guerilla base on North Korea's highest mountain,
Mt Paektu, in February 1942.
The event was reportedly marked by a double rainbow, and a bright star
in the sky.
The younger Kim graduated from Kim Il-sung University in 1964, and after
a period of grooming for leadership, he was officially designated
successor to his father in 1980.
But he didn't hold any positions of real power until 1991, when he took
control of the armed forces - despite his lack of military experience.
Analysts believe he was given the position to counter potential
resistance to his eventual succession. After the death of Kim Il-sung in
1994, it was three years before he took over the leadership of the
ruling Korean Workers' Party.
South Korean accounts portray Kim as a vain and capricious playboy, with
permed hair and lifts in his shoes, and a penchant for foreign liquor.
They have also consistently reported rumours of young women being
kidnapped in Japan and elsewhere to be his companions in a string of
There's a more sinister side too - for years Kim Jong-il has been
suspected abroad of being the man behind the 1983 bomb attack in Rangoon
that killed several members of the South Korean Cabinet, as well as the
bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987.
Some analysts also believe the younger Kim was responsible for
developing North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons programme.
But the secrecy surrounding Kim Jong-il and the difficulty of getting
accurate information about North Korea means that it's virtually
impossible to assess the true extent of his influence.
Source: BBC News