Kim Jong-nam, the eldest of Kim Jong-il’s sons, told the Japanese newspaper Tokyo Shimbun, “My father had been opposed to the three generation succession of power, but that became inevitable in order to maintain stability of the nation.” Rather than criticize his father, Jong-nam defended his father’s decision to place the younger brother Jong-un as the hereditary successor of the regime.
Why is Jong-nam speaking publicly about North Korea’s political system and matters concerning his father and brother, a thing no other North Korean in his right mind would dare do? Before attempting to answer that question, it is important to go back to Jong-nam’s previous interview with Japan’s Asahi, a television network which Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un despise, just one day prior to the 65th anniversary of North Korea Workers’ Party in October 9, 2011, when Kim Jong-un made his first public appearance. At the interview, Kim Jong-nam indirectly expressed support of his father who had by then made the decision to establish 3rd generation hereditary transfer of power. He presumed, “There must have been internal reasons..”
Kim Jong-nam’s timely consent to interviews with Japanese media suggests that he is using the media to his advantage at a time he feels there is possible threat to his life by his own brother Kim Jong-un. Although powerless and viewed as a failure because he was not the favored one to ascend to power, Kim Jong-nam’s exposure to the media seems a rather desperate attempt to gain favor and neutralize antagonistic feelings that the new leader of the nation, Kim Jong-un, may be harboring against him.
Kim Jong-nam, who is Kim Jong-un’s step-brother, is faced with a similar fate that his uncle, Kim Pyong-il, step-brother to Kim Jong-il, met a generation ago. He also became a sort of outcast and snubbed in favor of a brother who went on to become the supreme leader of the nation. Kim Jong-un’s appointment as the successor on September 28, 2010, as the “father and dear leader” of North Korea, is an irreversible reality that the older brother must accept. In one of his interviews, Kim Jong-nam emphasized that he still in communication with his relatives. If he exercised a small degree of power or influence in the North, it would have been needless to even point that out.
In North Korea, to make any public comment (especially to the media) about its supreme leader is ground for execution as it signifies betraying the people and violating the “Ten Principles for the Establishment of One-Ideology System”. Kim Jong-nam knows this well and, yet he took the risks because he probably believed there was real danger for his life. If Kim Jong-nam suddenly died of an “accidental” death, Kim Jong-un would not exactly be excluded in the list of prime suspects for the cause of his death. The relationship between two Kim brothers will be an intriguing one that will be closely watched. Translation by Hoyeon Choi Supervised by Stella cho
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