Kim Jong-nam received 'direct warning' from North Korea after criticising regime of half-brother Kim Jong-un
17 February 2017 • 11:13am
Kim Jong-nam, the murdered half-brother of North Korea’s leader, received a warning “directly” from Pyongyang after criticising the regime in interviews with a Japanese journalist. Kim, who died after being attacked with a fast-acting poison at Kuala Lumpur airport on Monday, openly criticised his family’s regime in on-the-record discussions with Japanese journalist Yoji Gomi. Kim told Mr Gomi that North Korea would collapse without necessary reform, his half-brother Kim Jong-un would not last long as a leader and hereditary succession was a “joke to the outside world”. Kim’s comments were published in the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper followed by a book in 2012, based on more than 150 emails and seven hours of face-to-face meetings.
Following Kim's dramatic assassination, Mr Gomi described how his mind was in “turmoil” over his death and paid tribute to Kim’s “courage” in publicly criticising the North Korean regime. Mr Gomi also revealed how Kim – who he said was more “intellectual and polite” than his playboy persona - had never met his half-brother leader Kim Jong-un in person and had shaken uncontrollably during their first interview, most likely due to fears of the potential consequences of publicly criticising the regime. Speaking at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo, Mr Gomi said: “There was an email that came to me and it was indicated that he had been warned directly from North Korea, so therefore he must refrain from talking about politics. But Kim Jong-nam mentioned that he would be happy to continue the interaction with me otherwise.”
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Mr Gomi, whose last contact with Kim was in January 2012, added: “He was critical of the system that was in place in North Korea. First of all, he said that the power should not depend on hereditary succession, that that was not appropriate for a socialist society and therefore a leader should be selected through a democratic process. “He believed that the only way that North Korea could survive would be for North Korea to go through a series of reforms and liberalisations that China had carried out. “If you think that because he made such statements in the coverage and the book that was published and this led to his assassination, I should think rather the focus should be [on the fact] that such comments should lead to an extermination of a human being.” Mr Gomi first encountered Kim Jong-nam during a chance meeting at Beijing airport in 2004, before exchanging numerous emails and conducting two on-the-record interviews in 2011. The first interview took place ten year after Kim’s apparent fall from grace in Pyongyang, following his high-profile arrest trying to enter Japan on a fake passport in order to visit Disneyland in 2001.
Describing the motivations – and potential dangers – of meeting with him, Mr Gomi said: “Most likely, although there may have been danger to himself, he wanted to go through myself and other media to make a statement to Pyongyang. “When the interview with him took place in Macau in January 2011, he was sweating throughout his body and was moving quite uncomfortably. It pains me to think that perhaps at that time, he was trying to feel how his comments would be perceived.” It has been well-documented that the existence of Kim – the oldest son of former leader Kim Jong-il - was little known outside the upper political echelons of North Korea, as he was born out of wedlock.
However, Mr Gomi believed that Kim was at one point being groomed for succession: in the 1990s, following years of education in Geneva, Kim was taken by his father on a tour around North Korea to show him at first hand the workings of his regime. “Although it may have been just temporarily, I believed that even for a little while, he had been considered as a successor candidate by his father,” said Mr Gomi. Mr Gomi also described how Kim was becoming increasingly known inside North Korea for his critical stance as a result of his interviews and the rise of mobile technology. “There was one person who had left North Korea and had come to Japan who said that there were rumours that the eldest son of Kim Jong-il had said critical words about North Korea and that this could a cause for change in North Korea,” said Mr Gomi. “He mentioned that when he heard that rumour, this gave him hope.” Mr Gomi also warned that one consequence of Kim’s death would be an invariable deterioration in relations between North Korea and China, a solitary major political and economic ally for the regime. Describing how Gomi had a house in China and also received security protection from Beijing, he said: “Until now, there has not been any official response from China with regard to the current incident. This may indicate some perplexity on their part. “Although China and North Korea had been allies during the Korean War, I do have a feeling that this will drive them further apart and will lead to a further deterioration in their relationship.”
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