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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