North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Parsing Jong Nam’s Remarks


North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's oldest son Jong-nam gives an interview with Japan’s TV Asahi in Beijing on Saturday. (Chosun Ilbo/Asahi TV)



Kim Jong Un, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Comission, attends the 3rd Party Conference on 28 September 2010 (Photo: KCNA)


Following Kim Jong Nam’s recent interview with Asahi TV, Chosun Ilbo offers some interpretation of his comments.  Jong Nam told Asahi that he was personally opposed to a hereditary succession, but that he would “be happy to offer my help when he (Kim Jong Un) needs it from overseas.”

Still, North Korea watchers are focusing on Kim’s outspoken criticism of the hereditary succession. “It foreshadows a rocky road ahead for Kim Jong-un,” a South Korean intelligence official said. A majority of experts appear to share that view. Although they would never say so, North Korean government officials and the public could see Kim Jong-un, who is 27, as too young and inexperienced. His older brother may feel the same way.

It appears North Korean government agencies are lining up to pledge their allegiance to Kim Jong-un, but experts say there is no telling what will happen if Kim Jong-il suddenly dies. However, they predict Kim Jong-un will not be ousted. “Most of the power has already been ceded to Kim Jong-un,” said a Unification Ministry official, “and most of Kim Jong-nam’s supporters in the North Korean government have probably been removed.”

Meanwhile, Kim Jong-nam in the interview referred to his country as “North Korea” rather than as “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” “the Republic” or “Chosun” as North Korean officials do.

But a South Korean intelligence official cautioned against reading that as a rejection of his homeland. “If you understand Kim Jong-nam’s lifestyle overseas and his way of thinking, there’s nothing strange about his choice of words and no need to over-interpret his comments,” the official said. “He watches South Korean news and TV soap operas on the Internet or on DVD for the last 10 years, so he is probably more familiar with the South Korean than the North Korean jargon.”







With Kim Jong Nam’s recent interview,  rumors of Kim Jong Un’s subordinates attempting to kill or harm Jong Nam have surfaced.  There have been previous rumors that Jong Nam was the target of Saetpyol-based assassination attempts in Asia and Europe.  There have also been rumors that the step-brothers have actively vied for social prominence among Pyongyang’s under-40 elites.  And yet, there are also rumors that they reached an understanding and accounts of a rift are unfounded.  In any event, Jong Nam’s relationship to Jiang Mianking, affords him added security in the PRC (where he resides part of the time).  From Chosun Ilbo:

A South Korean official said Jong-un’s aides tried “to do something to Kim Jong-nam, who has a loose tongue abroad,” but it seems China warned them not to lay a hand on him on Chinese soil.

Kim Jong-nam reportedly has close ties with China’s powerful “princelings,” an elite group of the children of senior Chinese officials. The plan was apparently fuelled by rumors that China would attempt to march into the North and install Kim Jong-nam as the ruler in case the regime collapses.

“Kim Jong-nam won’t go back to the North but stay in China,” the official added.

On Saturday, the 38-year old told Japanese TV he is against the hereditary succession in the North.

An affiliate of 38 North