The real North Korea by Kim's forsaken son

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

When Kim Jong-il's presumed heir was shunned, his life changed forever. David McNeill sifts exclusive extracts from a new book that explains why he believes his half-brother's fledgling reign is doomed

Every family has its black sheep but few families are as shrouded in myth as the reclusive Kim regime of North Korea. Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of the recently deceased dictator Kim Jong-il, famously left the family fold and apparently spends much of his time in the Chinese gambling resort of Macau. Until this month, he was known mainly for a bizarre clandestine attempt to visit Tokyo Disneyland in 2001. He used a fake passport and Chinese alias that translates as "fat bear" – a stunt that reportedly embarrassed his father and ended any chance he had of becoming leader.

Now Kim Jong-nam has offered a rare glimpse behind the family curtain in an extraordinary book – My Father, Kim Jong-Il and Me, published by Bungei Shunju – in which he reveals his love for his "tender-hearted" father, his fears for North Korea's future, the Chinese spies who watch and protect him and his father's doubts about handing power to his youngest son and Kim Jong-nam's half-brother, Kim Jong-un.

"My father was more opposed to the third-generation hereditary succession than anybody and there must have been internal factors that forced him to change his view," he said. "But the North Korean people are so used to obeying orders solely based on their belief in bloodline of [North Korea's founder] Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il that they may have trouble accepting any successor outside of that bloodline." Kim Jong-Nam warns that the succession risks making his country a "laughing stock".

Penned by the Tokyo-based journalist Yoji Gomi, the book is based on more than 150 email exchanges and seven hours of interviews since the two men met by chance in 2004. Kim Jong-nam abruptly cut off exchanges soon afterwards but later re-established contact and began a long correspondence that intensified in October 2010, a month after his half-brother made his public debut as Kim Jong-il's heir apparent at a conference of the Workers' Party of North Korea. In a message on 22 October 2010, Kim Jong-nam agrees to answer Gomi's questions on condition that the book's publication coincides with the first anniversary of Kim Jong-il's decision to anoint Kim Jong-un successor.

"Nobody with common sense could agree to a third-generation hereditary succession," he wrote on 3 January 2012, shortly after his father's funeral, adding that he opposed it. "I doubt that a young hereditary successor, with only two years' political training, can take over [a system] of absolute power that has lasted 37 years." He added that North Korea's behind-the-scenes powerbrokers would likely monopolise power behind the scenes, using his half-brother "as a symbol".

But the family's black sheep said he never wanted power and denies that his trip to Disneyland cost him the chance: "It was not a life-changing event." He added that it was "common" for the Pyongyang élite to travel with forged passports. "I went to Japan many times to go to famous hotels and restaurants in Tokyo. Kim Jong-un also went to Japan with a fake Brazilian passport."

On the people who rule North Korea

In November 2010, Kim Jong-nam wrote that his heart "aches" to "see or hear about the way people live in North Korea". He wonders how many of those who support his father or his successor really care for the well-being of ordinary North Koreans. "Not too many, it seems... some officials are smooth-talking just for the sake of their own survival, or others are betraying politics and putting up barriers between the people and the leadership because they are seeking only their own pleasure. I want these people to disappear. I don't think they are useful at all to the development of North Korea or the future of the successor."

Kim Jong-nam is careful throughout the book to say that he has nothing to do with North Korean politics and is in no position to comment on or influence the country. But "common sense" tells him that reforms and an open-door policy are vital for his country to achieve economic growth, after living in China for so long and seeing its explosive economic growth up close. He said China does not welcome hereditary rule but "understands it in support of North Korea's stability".

"I am being either watched or protected by the Chinese government, a fate that I cannot avoid... but I don't have particular personal ties with Chinese government officials. China protects us because we are the family of the leader of its neighbour, not because the Chinese government considers me the next leader."

On reforms to open up North Korea

Kim Jong-nam wrote: "Reforms and an open-door policy are necessary to make the nation rich. But normalisation of US-North Korean ties is a prerequisite for such policies." In an interview with Gomi in Macau in January 2011, he said the North fears that reform may lead to internal political collapse. "What North Korea wants most is normalisation of its ties with the United States. It will then deal with stabilising the Korea peninsula and take measures to rebuild its economy. Right now, tensions with the United States and South Korea are too severe. It's difficult to expect North Korea to reform and take an open-door policy.

"(So) there is little possibility that North Korea will give up its nuclear programme because national strength lies with its nuclear capability... it is not easy for a nation like North Korea, located in a geopolitically sensitive area and struggling to survive, to abandon its nuclear capability."

On his relationship with his father

"My father really missed me after I moved to Geneva, Switzerland [where he spent eight years studying] and I myself cried when I left him. I think he felt lonely when I left. But the target of his love moved from me to my half-brothers and sister, who were born after I left. My father seemed to become more cautious about me as I grew up and became, to him, a little capitalist... I grew further apart from him because I insisted on reform and market-opening and was eventually viewed with suspicion."

Kim Jong-nam said he heard that his "corruption" and Westernisation after such a long stay abroad was why his siblings were allowed much shorter stays overseas and had limited access to local friends. But he stayed in close contact with his father and believes his father continued to love him.

"I believe his love never changed... Kim Jong-il is strict, but has a tender heart. He cares about North Korea's future very much and he himself must feel frustrated that things are not exactly going well. The people who are around him do not have enough skills and experiences. My father's image is being harmed by those who speak only soft words."

Kim Jong-nam's message to his brother

Kim Jong-nam said he has never met his half brother Kim Jong-un. They never lived in the same place and he is in no position to comment on his brother's personality or fitness for the job of leader. But asked to give a message to his brother during an interview in January 2011, he had this to say.

"Without reforms, North Korea will collapse, and when such changes take place, the regime will collapse... I think we will see valuable time lost as the regime sits idle, fretting over whether it should pursue reforms or stick to the present political structure... I want my brother to make the people prosperous. I am saying this from the bottom my heart. I want to believe that my brother is a person who is capable of understanding my true beliefs. If he misunderstands my words, or has negative feelings toward them, that means he does not have the capacity to do that and I will feel disappointed."

He also said he believes their father chose him to be his successor, despite his youth, because he has the ability to bring prosperity to his people. Asked about his view on Kim Jong-un's lack of experience, Kim Jong-nam said: "Everybody begins with a lack of experience, so he only needs to accumulate it." He said the number of people who oppose the hereditary successor will decrease if Kim Jong-un tries hard to bring affluence to the nation and his efforts bring good results.

Kim Jong-nam's political ambition and his relationships with his father

Asked whether his father ever told him to succeed his post as the national leader, Kim Jong-nam wrote in December 2010 that he was then still favoured by his father as the eldest son, but he has never been on the list of successors. "Since my father was more opposed to the idea of the hereditary succession than anybody else, any discussions of a successor were seen as taboo" – until Kim Jong-un came into the picture. Kim Jong-nam said he has no wish to rule the country since he does think he could bear the role, nor does he have the confidence. He wrote: "Even if some people expect me to, I do not wish to destroy my own life to satisfy the expectations of others."

Suggested Topics
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?