What Will Happen to Kim Jong-un's Brothers?

Kim Jong-nam (left) and Kim Jong-chol Kim Jong-nam (left) and Kim Jong-chol

With North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's third son Jong-un being effectively confirmed as heir to his father's leadership, pundits are wondering what will happen to his two older brothers. Kim Jong-nam (39) and Kim Jong-chol (29) appear to be facing contrasting fates.

Jong-nam is only a half-brother to the other two, being the son of Kim Jong-il's ex-wife Song Hye-rim, who died in 2002, while Jong-chol and Jong-un are children of Kim Jong-il's third wife Ko Yong-hui, who died in 2004.

Jong-nam was originally considered the favorite to succeed his father, but he fell into disgrace, apparently after telling the children of high-ranking North Korean officials in the late 1990s that he would pursue reforms if he became the next leader. Other factors were the defection to the West in 1996 of his aunt Song Hye-rang and his attempt to enter Japan on a forged Dominican passport. He has been living in virtual exile in China and Macau since 2001.

Jong-nam was in Pyongyang between July and September 2008, when Kim Jong-il suffered a massive stroke, but has apparently been unable to return since January 2009, when Jong-un was tapped to succeed his father. "He could end up just like Kim Pyong-il, Kim Jong-il's half brother and North Korean ambassador to Poland, who has been in virtual exile for 20 years," said a South Korean government source.

But Jong-chol may do better. The reason he was not chosen to succeed his father is believed to be his effeminate and passive personality. There are even rumors that he suffers from excessive amounts of the female hormone estrogen as a side effect of steroid abuse. Jong-chol was reportedly an avid fan of action star Jean Claude Van Damme and tried to emulate his muscular idol. He was captured on film by a Japanese broadcaster at an Eric Clapton concert in Germany in 2006, but unlike Jong-nam with his flamboyant lifestyle, has done nothing to catch the attention of the media.

He also apparently maintains a close relationship with Jong-un, and the two are said to enjoy playing basketball with their teams of body guards. Both attended school in Switzerland between 1993 and 1998. All this suggests Jong-chol will not be exiled when Jong-un comes to power but probably be given a post.

englishnews@chosun.com / Sep. 29, 2010 10:32 KST