The two leaders recently arrived in Singapore to meet, for the first time ever, couldn't seem more different. And in at least one way, it's true. President Donald Trump is the oldest person to ever take office and is currently 71 years old. His North Korean counterpart is much much younger. But how much younger isn't quite clear. The mystery of how old Kim Jong-un is has lasted since his birth was announced to the world.
Officially, Kim's birthday is not published so we don't know how old he is. But, the U.S. government has decided that he is likely born on Jan. 8, 1984. This birthday would make Kim 34 years old this past January — less than half the age of Trump. The Treasury Department has listed the birthday, noting that they are trying to control assets owned by the "supreme leader."
For a country that largely revolves around the leader's cult of personality, that may seem odd. But in North Korea, that is the case. Instead, they still celebrate the birthday of his father and grandfather. "Day of the Shining Star" on Feb. 16 for his dad and "Day of the Sun" on April 15 for his grandad were established during the lives of those respective leaders.
The only way that there's a guess at all is from a defector. North Korea expert Michael Madden, who works for Johns Hopkins University’s 38 North website, told Newsweek that his aunt has shared information on his age. " was the year [Kim] was actually born. We know that through multiple human sources, including his aunt, Ko Yong Suk," Madden told the magazine. Ko defected in 1998.
"He and my son were playmates from birth. I changed both of their diapers," Ko told The Washington Post as proof that she knew when Kim was born. She also said that Kim went to live with her and her family in Switzerland when he was 12 years old. That was in 1996. The math also works out so that he is now 34 years of age.
Evidently the year of birth has also been debated — not just the day — as some sources have pointed to 1982. Madden told Newsweek this had to do with keeping Kim's birthday 40 years after his father's. "The 1982 date is a propaganda date based on rumors that would basically tie [Kim] to his father and grandfather.... There's serious Confucian, Asian symbolism attached to it," Madden told the magazine.
Another clue as to Kim's birthday and therefore age comes not from any North Korean defectors or spies but rather an American basketball player. In 2014, on January 8, Dennis Rodman sang "Happy Birthday" to Kim in front of thousands of people at a basketball game in North Korea. The two have had a friendly relationship over several years. Rodman has said the year, though, is 1983.
A clear answer may not ever be provided. And with the North Korea political system so buttoned-down, some sort of Korean "birther" movement is unlikely to be demanded from Kim himself. The best bet will be that he decides to celebrate his birthday like his father and grandfather did — and then that he chooses the real date.
In any case, age may not play a role in the summit. If Trump and Kim start to insult each other, Kim already used the old card and Trump already hinted at which direction he'd take. "Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me 'old,' when I would NEVER call him 'short and fat?' Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen!" Trump tweeted in November.
Never say never, but they likely will be focused on other things first.