Hostage Princes and Shadow Reformers: Kim Jong Nam

By | January 18, 2012 | No Comments

We recently learned that Kim Jong Nam [金正男], the eldest son of Kim Jong Il, had struck up a friendship with Japanese reporter, Yoji Komi [五味洋治], in the Beijing Capital Airport in 2004 and has corresponded with him frequently since by e-mail.  Recently, Kim instructed Yoji to collate all the materials, over 100 e-mails and several interviews in person, in order “get my thoughts in good order and publish them at a suitable time.”  Yoji has now made the materials public in book form, in Japanese.

Kim Jong Nam’s new text is out on Friday in Tokyo, publisher’s website linked by clicking the picture


Excerpts |  That bastion of Seoul journalism, the Chosun Ilbo has an extensive run-down of the contents of the notes, including:

Kim Jong Nam on China:

“Rather than welcoming the hereditary succession, China is merely acknowledging it for the sake of maintaining stability…The dynastic succession is a joke to the outside world.”

“The Chinese government is protecting me, but it is also monitoring me too. It’s my inevitable fate. If you can’t avoid it, it’s better to enjoy it…Because I was educated in the West, I was able to enjoy freedom from early age, and I still love being free. The reason I visit Macau so often is because it’s the most free and liberal place near China, where my family lives.”

Kim Jong Nam on his aunt (the most powerful woman in the DPRK) Kim Kyong-hui and uncle Jang Song-taek:

“I still have good relations with them and they are fond of me. They pay special attention to me.”

Kim Jong Nam on family politics and his younger brother, the current figurehead in Pyongyang:

“After I went back to North Korea following my education in Switzerland, I grew further apart from my father because I insisted on reform and market-opening and was eventually viewed with suspicion…My father felt very lonely after sending me to study abroad. Then my half brothers Jong-chol and Jong-un and half sister Yeo-jong were born and his adoration was moved on to them. And when he felt that I’d turn into a capitalist after living abroad for years, he shortened the overseas education of my brothers and sister.”

“I’m his half brother, but I’ve never met him so I don’t know…I went to Japan many times to go to famous hotels and restaurants in Tokyo. Jong-un also went to Japan with a fake Brazilian passport.”

“As an older brother, I want to cooperate with my younger brother Jong-un. But only if he wants to. And I would like to help him while staying abroad.”

“I believe Kim Jong-un will visit China by himself next year [e.g., 2012] after he is appointed to a higher position.”

Kim Jong Nam on prospects for reform and opening up:

“Without reforms, North Korea will collapse, and when such changes take place, the regime will collapse…I think we will see valuable time lost as the regime sits idle fretting over whether it should pursue reforms or stick to the present political structure.”

“The Kim Jong-un regime will not last long.”

Chosun Ilbo speculates further (with, perhaps, a bit of frustration about being scooped from Tokyo) about why Kim Jong Nam chose Yoji as his interlocutor, settling on the hypothesis that Jong Nam wants ultimately to move to Japan because he feels uncomfortable in China. Further extracts from the book are here. Chosun Ilbo has a very useful analysis here, and the Daily Telegraph in London gives more context here for Kim Jong Nam’s collapsist arguments.

At the very least, this book should provide “chef relief” and the liberation of North Korea analysts from the testimony of Kim Jong Il’s sushi chef (who, by most accounts, has been out of touch with ruling circles for over a decade, whereas Kim Jong Nam was actively involved in reviving his father’s heath via Paris in 2008-09, etc.).

The Kim Jong Nam Narrative in the Chinese Media |  If, as has been asserted in the past, Kim Jong Nam is in some way attached to or being sponsored by the Chinese government, it might behoove us further to see how the news is playing out in Beijing.  Far from suppressing the news of the new book, Huanqiu Shibao is promoting the text on their television program, via this short clip (in Chinese).  However, the Chinese state media, in noting his recent visit to Beijing, indicated that Kim Jong Nam’s health was not very good (he has “become not just a little bit more fat,” as the broadcaster said tactfully).

While high-level bilateral contacts have finally resumed in Pyongyang (see 1/14, and more subsequently on Sino-NK), Chinese censors have left the door open for mockery of Kim Jong Un.  Alongside the television clips about Kim Jong Nam’s recent remarks, one can find short reports that get into depictions of Kim  Jong Un as “Kung Fu Panda,” as well as straight-faced reports about natural wonders such as crying bears and freezing birds in North Korea grieving for Kim Jong Il which then proceed to get tatooed with critical comments by netizens about North Korean feudalism.  As a new Dossier to be released soon by Sino-NK will argue, it appears that Pyongyang has been somewhat out of sorts with China’s less-than-fully-adulatory welcome of the successor, and the Kim Jong Nam variable seems set to exacerbate that particular wound.  In the meantime, should any readers run into the Dear Leader’s oldest son in Macau, please don’t hesitate to chat him up.

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