Dead North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's former chef Kenji Fujimoto says Kim's son and heir Jong-un will embrace Chinese-style reforms for the Stalinist country. Fujimoto, who was Kim's chef for 13 years from 1988, was speaking to the Chosun Ilbo on Saturday before appearing on a TV Chosun talk show.
"Kim Jong-un grew up watching the living conditions of North Koreans. He will embrace [Chinese-style] reforms," Fujimoto said. He recalled a conversation he had with Kim Jong-un at a summer villa in Wonsan, a port city in southeastern North Korea, when the heir was just 17. Over a glass of vodka, Kim junior said, "We can jet ski, go horseback riding and enjoy ourselves every day, but what about ordinary people?" according to the former chef.
"When I go to Europe or Japan, I see overflowing products and food, but when I return to the North, there is nothing," he quoted Kim Jong-un as saying. "Do we need to study China's policies?"
Fujimoto said only the children of Ko Yong-hui, Kim Jong-il's favorite wife, were chosen for higher office. "Kim Jong-chol [Jong-un's older brother] always followed his younger brother and Kim Jong-un always played the leader. Kim Jong-il probably took note of this," Fujimoto said.
Jong-un's aunt Kim Kyong-hui and his uncle Jang Song-taek will probably make the important policy decisions for the time being, Fujimoto said. "Although Kim Jong-un was chosen as the successor, only one out of every 10 policies he presents will probably be implemented," he said.
Jong-un's aunt, uncle and a small cabal of top officials will act as patrons and handle key policy decisions, he speculated. He said Workers Party secretary Choe Ryong-hae is a key confidant of Jang's. "Choe Ryong-hae sits on Jang Song-taek's right hand," Fujimoto said. He added Jang is a charismatic and intelligent man and his No. 2 status makes his orders impossible to ignore, but he is unlikely to eliminate Jong-un and grab power for himself.
Fujimoto said Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-il's eldest son by his first wife Song Hye-rim, was never considered as a successor. "He was the son of a woman [Song Hye-rim] Kim had banished to Russia and was eliminated from the list of successors from the outset," he said. Kim Jong-nam "was never invited to banquets and was not mentioned during high-level meetings," according to Fujimoto.
Kim Jong-nam, who lives in virtual exile overseas, will not be allowed to pay his respects to his father and could even be killed if he returns to Pyongyang, the former chef said. Jong-nam has openly spoken out against the hereditary succession. "He was imprudent," Fujimoto said.
Kim Ok (47), a director of the National Defense Commission who was Kim Jong-il's de facto fourth wife, is expected to remain in Kim Jong-un's favor. "Kim Ok has been at Kim Jong-un's side since he was young," Fujimoto said. "When Ko Yong-hui would travel overseas, he would ask her to take care of his father. I never saw the two on bad terms."
Fujimoto was accused of being a Japanese spy and placed under house arrest for more than a year. In 2001 he claimed he was going to buy sea urchin eggs, a delicacy, in Japan and fled, leaving his wife and son behind. He always wears a bandanna and dark sunglasses in interviews.
"The North Korean regime probably knows where I live. But I've exposed myself to the media, which made it difficult for Kim Jong-il to get rid of me, so I'm not afraid of threats. But if people find out what I look like, I may end up becoming a nuisance to my neighbors since people will come round and say, 'That's where Kim Jong-il's chef lives,'" Fujimoto said.