North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's death has put some international spotlight on his eldest son Jong-nam, who lives in virtual exile overseas. Born to Song Hye-rim, Kim's second wife who died in 2002, Jong-nam had been regarded as a potential heir until the late 1990s.
But he fell out of favor in 2001 when he was arrested at Narita International Airport in Tokyo traveling on a false passport. Kim senior then turned his attention to his younger sons Jong-chol and Jong-un by his third and favorite wife Ko Yong-hui.
Kim Jong-nam regularly visited Pyongyang until his father had a stroke in summer 2008. But since Kim Jong-un was anointed heir to the hereditary throne in January 2009, he lived an itinerant life in mainly in Macau and Beijing and stayed well away from North Korea. Experts say he may not be safe and there have been rumors of assassination attempts by his younger brother, who is desperate to consolidate his position.
A source familiar with the internal North Korean affairs said China prefers Kim Jong-nam, who is pro-Chinese and reform-minded, and could end up backing him for the leadership in case the Kim Jong-un regime fails.