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Geopolitics

A Peek Inside Pyongyang: Kim Jong Il’s Eldest Son Opens Up

In a new book called "My Father, Kim Jong Il and Me," Japanese journalist Yoji Gomi offers a rare glimpse into North Korea’s ultra-secret halls of power. The book is based on lengthy interviews and e-mails with Kim Jong Nam, the late Kim

Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un (YouTube)
Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un (YouTube)
Philippe Pons

TOKYO -- Finally, a voice of dissent can be heard from North Korea, and it is none other than that of Kim Jong Nam, son of the late Kim Jong Il, who was recently succeeded by Jong Nam's younger half-brother. A book by the Japanese journalist Yoji Gomi, based on three interviews and more than 150 e-mails with Kim Jong Nam, offers an unexpected insight into the so-called "black sheep" of the family. More importantly, it also lifts the veil, however slightly, on the mysteries of power in Pyongyang.

Until the recent release of My Father, Kim Jong Il and Me, Kim Jong Nam, in his 40s, was principally known for his foray into Japan in 2001. He wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland but, because he was holding a fake passport, was deported. The affair seriously embarrassed Pyongyang. Since then Jong Nam has lived in the Chinese cities of Macau and Beijing.

"He is a very warm person who loves his country, worries about its future and has replied as openly as possible to my questions," says Gomi. After a chance meeting with Jong Nam at Beijing airport, the journalist would go on to have three more sit-down conversations with him. The two also maintained an eight-year-long e-mail correspondence.

"A little capitalist"

Kim Jong Nam is critical of the regime, but doesn't attack it head-on. "My father was more opposed than anyone else to continuing the hereditary transfer of power, but internal factors forced him to change his mind," he told Gomi. To justify hereditary succession, Pyongyang often cites the need to avoid internal conflict that could lead to complications from abroad.

On Jan. 3, shortly after his father's funeral, Jong Nam wrote: "I doubt that with just two years of training the successor will be able to take control of an absolutist system," implying that his half-brother, Kim Jong Un – whom he has never met – may be just a symbol of continuity. Jong Nam himself is not interested in politics. "I live in Macau because I feel free here," he wrote, without specifying what in fact he does do there.

In his conversations with Gomi, Kim Jong Nam described himself as worried about the future of his country: "How many of those that supported my father really worry about the well-being of the population?"

After spending eight years studying in Switzerland, Jong Nam became – in his father's eyes – "a little capitalist." "Without reforms, the economy is going to collapse and the regime with it," he told Gomi. "I want to believe that my half-brother understands my opinion." Jong Nam lamented also that his half-brother is surrounded by a closed-circle of advisors "who shelter the head of state from the people."

Jong Nam claimed to feel "protected" but also "monitored" by China. Following the announced publication of the book – which he himself deems "premature" – Kim Jong Nam advised Yoji Gomi that he would be ending their e-mail correspondence.

Read more from Le Monde in French.

Photo – YouTube

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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