Kim Jong-nam, the assassinated half-brother of North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un, has always been the black sheep of the family.
After being born to a woman who was forced by former dictator Kim Jong-il to leave her husband, Jong-nam grew up isolated and in secret. Jong-nam was also quoted by UK daily The Sun as saying: “My father was keeping highly secret the fact that he was living with my mother who was married, a famous movie actress, so I couldn’t get out of the house or make friends.”
On the surface Jong-nam’s early life as eldest son and potential successor of Dictator Kim Jong-il seemed normal given the circumstances.
He attended Kim Il-sung University, served in the army and was appointed to a senior position in the Ministry of Public Security in 1998, USA Today reported.
But after returning from studying overseas and being exposed to Western democracy, he started to distance himself from his father.
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Jong-nam was sent to study in Switzerland and became fluent in French and English.
“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,” he said during an interview with Tokyo Shimbun.
The experience he gained in the free world made him become disillusioned about the North Korean system.
“His exposure to the outside world and his impatience living in relative social isolation in Pyongyang and Wonsan led him to question North Korea’s political and economic system,” the BBC reported.
Kim Jong-il was reported to have become so frustrated with Jong-nam that he even threatened to send the young man to a political prison camp to work in a coal mine.
During an interview that took place in 2010, Jong-nam spoke out against the North Korean dictatorship and told the broadcaster Asahi that he opposes hereditary succession.
“Personally I am against third-generation succession.”
Due to his unorthodox and hedonistic lifestyle, Jong-nam was often referred to as a playboy.
The Two Half Brothers And Their Links To Malaysia
When Kim Jong-nam’s half brother assumed power in North Korea, he had been forced to live the life of an exile. According to CNN it is not clear when he left North Korea, but he spent most of his time in Macau and didn’t attend his father’s funeral in 2011.
In 2001 he embarrassed the Kim family when he tried to enter Japan using a fake passport in order to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
After being exiled from North Korea, he spend the rest of his life in Macau, China, Singapore and Malaysia and had 2 wives and 1 mistress living in different countries.
The Japanese Yomiuri Shimbun had reported in 2014 that Jong-nam had surfaced in Malaysia and “quoted sources” as saying “Kim Jong-nam was spotted in a Korean restaurant in Kuala Lumpur.”
North Korea expert Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University, was quoted by The Telegraph as pointing out why Jong-nam makes frequent stops in our country.
“In Malaysia, it may be easier for him to hide. Kim Jong-un wants him dead because he knows many secrets about him and Pyongyang, but also because he fears that Kim Jong-nam could serve as the focal point of a coup against his rule,” Professor Shingemura added that Jong-nam’s late uncle, Jang, had controlled most of the North Korean businesses in Singapore and Malaysia.
Media reports also cite that Jong-nam often travelled in the company of the children of high-ranking Chinese officials giving to speculation that the Beijing government is offering the exile protection.
While Kim Jong-un secured his power within North Korea, Jong-Nam enjoys more support in the outside world.
Especially the People’s Republic of China would have had an interest in replacing Kim Jong-Un with his much more liberal and open minded older brother.
“Jong-nam was also closely tied to Chinese elites and had lived under some protection from Chinese authorities,” the BBC reported.
Jong-nam who advocated for a more open economy in North Korea would also be a lot more convenient and easy to deal with for the Chinese government than Kim Jong-un who has recently been criticised for his reckless nuclear tests.
In 2012 Jong-nam was reported saying “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.”
Jong-nam’s liberal views and willingness to embrace democracy would have also made him a favourable leader in the eyes of the west.
After having been banned from North Korea and living in exile, he became more and more critical of his country and family and even called the current North Korean regime “a joke to the outside world” according to a book written by Japanese journalist Yoji Gomi.
Even though Jong-nam had no powerbase in North Korea and showed no interest in challenging Kim Jong-un politically, he was still a serious threat for the current Dictator.
The North Korean leader had also made his own efforts to establish ties with Malaysia.
Back in 2013, Kim Jong-un was even awarded a doctorate degree by Help University.
A ceremony was held on 3 October in the DPR Korean (North Korean) embassy in Kuala Lumpur and was attended by 35 invitees including the HELP University president Datuk Dr Paul Chan and the North Korean ambassador to Malaysia, who received the honour on Kim’s behalf, The Star reports.
In fact, all Malaysians were accorded the privilege to visit North Korea without a visa in a reflection of the good ties the two countries have established.
After Two Assassination Attempts, The Third Time Proved To Be Fatal
Jong-nam was a much bigger threat than it seemed to his half-brother Jong-un than it seemed at first glance. In a direct attack against his half-brother, Jong-nam stated that he expects the regime of Kim Jong-un to collapse because he is too young and unexperienced, The Telegraph reported.
Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University, told the Telegraph that China might be looking for an alternative North Korean leader “and could have thrown their support behind another member of the Kim family.”
Mark Tokola, vice president at the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, said that he would be surprised if Jon-Nam was not killed, because Kim Jong-un has legitimate reasons to be concerned about him.
If Jong-nam was assassinated by the North Korean government it would neither be a surprise nor the first attempt.
There have already been two previous assassination attempts on Jong-nam by North Korean spies in Macau and South Korea.
Aidan Foster-Carter from Leeds University was quoted by ABC news network as stating “there are reasons why this might have happened, I certainly wasn’t expecting it now.
“We hadn’t heard from him for some time and I assumed he was lying low and that he wasn’t really a threat to anybody.
“It all smacks a bit of the James Bond-type method, which North Korea’s slightly famous for,” Foster-Carter concluded.
– Malaysian Digest