The Korea Herald


Kim Jong-nam’s remarks offer glimpse into N.K.

By Korea Herald

Published : Jan. 18, 2012 - 15:41

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Some doubt his intentions behind those media interviews

Recently revealed remarks by Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of late North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il, have drawn keen attention here as he painted a grim outlook for the leadership of his brother Jong-un.

Through the remarks, he has disparaged the third-generation power succession, doubted Jong-un’s untested leadership and asserted the need for an openness policy to shore up the moribund economy of the North.

Jong-nam apparently fell out of his father’s favor after his arrest in 2001 while attempting to enter Japan on a forged passport. He has since bided his time in China and other neighboring countries.

He was educated in Switzerland and the former Soviet Union for about nine years. Due to his overseas studies, he has reportedly championed capitalist economic principles and a sweeping reform to prevent the nation of 24 million from collapsing.

This week, a local media outlet revealed excerpts of some 100 e-mails he sent to Yoji Gomi, a Japanese journalist at the Tokyo Shimbun, over the past seven years. Gomi met Jong-nam in September 2004 at a Beijing airport by chance, and has since been in touch with him via e-mail.

In one of the e-mails, he expressed doubts in the leadership of Jong-un, who the North hailed as its supreme leader several days after Dec. 17, when Kim Jong-il reportedly died. Jong-nam and Jong-un are half-brothers.

“I am worried about how much Kim Jong-un, who takes after the grandfather (Kim Il-sung) just in outward appearances, can satisfy North Koreans. Jong-un is now nothing but a symbolic presence. The existing elites will take the lead (in the power structure),” he said.

Jong-nam claimed that leadership of Jong-un might not last long should there be a power struggle among the elites. He also said he still has the support from his aunt Kim Kyong-hui and her husband Jang Song-thaek, who are key mentors for Jong-un.

Calling the hereditary power succession a “mockery around the world,” Jong-nam said that China only recognizes the succession process to maintain stability in the North rather than welcoming it.

Some observers said Jong-nam might be looking for opportunities to play some leadership role in the North when the time comes for his country to change in a direction that he has envisioned as expressed in the remarks.

In another e-mail, Jong-nam also attributed the sinking of the corvette Cheonan and the artillery shelling of Yeonpyeongdo, a northwestern border island, to the belligerent state. The two attacks in 2010 killed 50 South Koreans including two civilians.

“(The shelling of Yeonpyeongdo) was a provocation by the North Korean military to highlight their status and the reason for their existence, and the legitimacy of their possessing nuclear arms,” he said.

Regarding the sinking of the Cheonan, he said, “For North Korea, there is a need to emphasize that the areas near the five northwestern border islands are disputed ones. Thus, they can justify their possession of nuclear arsenal and military-first policy.”

In some e-mails, he noted the North’s dilemma over whether to adopt an openness policy.

“Without a reform and an openness policy, North Korea will collapse, but when it carries out a reform and openness policy, its regime will collapse,” he said.

Touching on the reason why the North has stuck to a hard-line foreign policy, he said that it is because of a “political system for the survival of the regime.” He added that the North will never abandon its nuclear programs.

Jong-nam also said that China “protects and, at the same time, monitors” him.

“That is my inevitable destiny. It is better to accept and enjoy the inevitable destiny,” he said.

By Song Sang-ho