Sunday, December 31, 2006

APU Person of the Year: Kim Jong Il

North Korean potentate Kim Jong Il becomes the first person to win's Person of the Year award twice. In 2001, both Kim Dae-jung of South Korea and Kim Jong-il were selected as the most newsworthy persons of the year in the Asia Pacific region.

Kim Jong Il's standoff with the West and with neighboring South Korea and Japan culminating in Pyongyang's first nuclear detonation make him the hands-down winner for this year's honors. Since neither Iran or Iraq are within our purview, neither Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein were in the running.

Yahoo News Photo
Kim Il Jong. AFP Photo via Yahoo News.

Other candidates included former Nepali king Gyanendra Shahi who was forced to reliquish control of his government after hijacking the Nepalese democracy. Nepal now stand ready to vote on whether it should become a full republic, or hold on to a powerless constitutional monarchy.

Another monarch King Tupou IV died at 88 this year after leading his country since 1965, making him at the time of his death the fourth longest-reigning royal in the world. His son, King George Tupou V, has been forced to postpone his coronation ceremonies after deadly riots by anti-monarchy elements in Tonga.

But the North Korean leader stole the show with his bold and dangerous stand over Pyongyang's nuclear program. Few people could have predicted a year earlier that the North would be a confirmed nuclear power by now, although it has long been suspected that the country had untested nuclear weapons.

Kim Jong Il started this year's nuclear brinkmanship with repeated missile tests including tests of his feared ICBM, which according to Western sources failed in flight. Then came the usual threats to plunge the world into conflagaration if folks did not stop picking on Pyongyang.

Since he won Person of the Year in 2001, Kim Jong Il has carved an image for himself and a familiar persona that exceeds that even of his hard-handed father. He has become the quintessential Asian strong-man that exceeds even cartoon caricatures.

It's not hard to imagine this leader ruling the country from some luxurious super-fortified underground palace surrounded by the "Joy Brigade" which is said to include lovelies from Sweden. Sensitive about his diminutive stature, the Korean dictator is said to wear four inch lifts to make him appear more imposing.

News reports also claim that he is fond of Hennessey cognac and over the last 10 years has averaged around US$700,000 in purchases of this alcoholic beverage. It is said that he likes Italian food, but one Russian official claims that his favorite meal is roasted donkey.

A collector of movie videotapes, it is reported that he particularly favors James Bond flicks among Western offerings.

According to official biographies, Kim Il Jong was born on the sacred Mount Paektu, home of Korean civilization. "At the time of his birth there were flashes of lightning and thunder, the iceberg in the pond on Mount Paektu emitted a mysterious sound as it broke, and bright double rainbows rose up," so the story goes.

Although he lived a life of luxury as son of Korean leader Kim Il Sung, his mother died when he was seven and his younger brother drowned as a child.

He rose to the rank of leader of the Worker's Party of Korea before succeeding his father in 1994. News reports say he has three sons and at least one daughter who live with him in his "pleasure palace."

In his confrontation with the West, Kim Il Jong seems well fit for the role alternately showing extreme emotion or a poker face in the face of adversity. Most people who have met him don't think he's crazy despite his growing reputation as the villain of the West.

His boldness, skill in using the media, and expertise at the negotiating table make him a tough adversary. The fact that he relishes the spotlight doesn't hurt either.

Indeed by becoming a two-time APU Person of the Year, Kim Il Jong seems born to play a prominent role on the world's stage.

Korean Central News Agency photo on December 6, shows North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Il and his generals inspecting a sub-unit of the Korean People's Army Unit. AFP photo via Yahoo News.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, center, poses for a photograph with the soldiers of Korean People's Army 821 unit, which is situated on the undisclosed forefront, North Korea, in this early April 2006 file photo. AP Photo/Korea Central News Agency via Korea News Service/FILE via Yahoo News.