Kim Jong-nam 'Trying to Position Himself as Voice of Reform'

      January 18, 2012 13:23

      What was in Kim Jong-nam's mind when he asked a Japanese journalist Yoji Komi of Tokyo Shimbun in October 2010 to "get my thoughts in good order and publish them at a suitable time?" It was immediately after his half-brother Jong-un was named as successor of his now deceased father Kim Jong-il.

      North Korea experts have been abuzz after what are said to be e-mails from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's eldest son surfaced in a book by a Japanese journalist. Some feel the candid e-mails criticizing the North Korean regime are an attempt by Kim Jong-nam, who was passed over for the leadership, to position himself as an alternative to the regime.

      One researcher at a South Korean think tank said on Tuesday, "We should pay attention to the fact that Kim Jong-nam said he fell out of favor because he insisted on reform and market opening when he spoke to his father. It seems that Jong-nam is trying to establish himself as an icon for reform."

      He added, "If North Korea's economy deteriorates to a point where it can no longer prop up the regime, especially before the new regime under Kim Jong-un is firmly established, the calls for reform and opening will get stronger both within and outside of North Korea. Kim Jong-nam may be trying to say that he can be an alternative for the latent group of supporters for reform and opening if internal strife in North Korean politics breaks out."

      Kim Jong-nam was exposed to Western ideas during his education in Switzerland. The late Hwang Jang-yop, a former chairman of the North's rubber-stamp parliament and the highest-ranking North Korean ever to defect to the South, once said, "If Kim Jong-nam comes to power, it's possible that the country would move towards reform and open door policy."

      Regarding Kim's comment that he is "still maintaining good relationship and is dearly loved by his aunt Kim Kyong-hui and uncle Jang Song-taek," some believe he was in fact trying to get them to read the book. A South Korean intelligence officer said, "North Korea is virtually being ruled by Kim Kyong-hui and Jang Song-taek as regents, with Kim Jong-un as a figurehead. Kim Jong-nam knows that better than anyone else and seems to be trying to show off to his aunt and uncle."

      But others say Kim was acting out of pique. Kim "is not a meticulous planning type but rather an emotional figure who tends to act in a fit of spleen," one source said. And Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University, said, "No matter what the real intention was, Kim Jong-nam is raising his profile. He is not challenging the Kim Jong-un regime, but may feel that if he does not get the spotlight now he will be forgotten."

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