Grafs from the new Kim Jong Nam book

Rather than spoon-feed you the parts that interest me, I’ll just link to this, this, and this and let you read and judge for yourself. You may also find this related article by Scott Snyder interesting.

kjn.jpgMy reaction on reading these excerpts? Disappointment, mostly. Few of Jong Nam’s broader conclusions about North Korea are surprising or even divergent from the consensus of outside speculators. Most are either obvious, unsupported by any credible new revelations of fact, or both. An exception is his intriguing assertion that North Korea is “extremely unstable internally,” but the grafs offer no details to support this, and Jong Nam doesn’t seem to have spent much time in the more fly-blown parts of North Korea where that instability might be (barely) visible. The personal details were interesting — he never met Kim Jong Eun, had a close emotional relationship with his father, and has a Chinese “protection” detail. Like Jong Nam himself, Jong Eun has traveled to Japan under a fake passport. Oh, and Jong Nam says never really wanted to succeed his father, before or after that whole Disney thing, which might just be true. Jong Nam gives the impression of astounding naivete given his background, in both his personal habits and in some of his political thinking.

Even chewing on these small slices, I found myself struggling to separate truth from self-serving pap (Was Jong-Nam really not involved in North Korea’s business activities in Macau, previously the center of its money laundering activities? What an interesting extradition request that would be!). My guess is that like me, you’ll fail at this task because of the short supply of known facts to compare to Jong Nam’s account. I still want to read the book. I even find myself feeling disturbingly sympathetic to someone who grew so fat on the misfortune of others. This account does conform to what I’ve heard third- and fourth-hand about Jong Nam, which is that he just never had the mean streak he needed to fit in in Pyongyang. He probably never had the gravitas to make much of a positive impact there. I’m afraid he’ll soon find himself the target of withering pressure from his homeland. I wouldn’t even rule out a brush with a stranger with a poisoned needle, although the more likely outcome for Jong Nam is that his Chinese minders will soon whisk him away from the bacchanalian fleshpot where he lives now for a more austere, less accessible part of China.


  1. It came out a couple of weeks ago that Jong Eun came to Japan with a group as a child that included brother #2 and adult minders. Credit card use traced them to Disneyland. Japanese authorities were tipped off and looked for him, but the group had already left. Spent something like 10 days here.

  2. I won’t bet the farm on this, but I think his pronouncements about the regime are a bit too negative and critical for him to be on board with some of their major activities. As I wrote here, some of the things he says would seem to get him in hot water with the image creators up in Pyongyang, and he is tolerated only because he’s the grandson, son, and now brother of the leadership. I don’t know how much protection China can offer, though, since they can’t even seem to prevent things like the Ch’ŏnan sinking or the shelling of Yŏnpyŏngdo.

    And I’m not going to be too harsh on the guy. After all, you can’t exactly choose your parents, and it seemed he chose not to be a part of running the country. I’m hoping this seemingly pragmatic second favorite son can step in and play a positive transitional role if the circumstances up north require it.

  3. In the lobby of many Chinese restaurants in the US, you may find a statue of the laughing Buddha.

    This fellow could be the model!

  4. An anecdote in the first link you provided really intrigued me. It says the author spent time with Kim Jong Nam at a Beijing bar in May 2011. Hmmmm…I seem to recall Kim Jong Nam’s father was also in China during that month visiting Manchuria, Yangzhou, and Beijing from May 20-25.

    I assume the subject of Dad’s trip to China certainly would have been a topic of discussion if the author met Kim Jong Nam on or after May 20. If the rendezvous was before May 20, then a journalist with Kim Jong Nam’s e-mail address certainly would have mentioned Kim Jong-Il’s China trip in ensuing correspondence. I still wonder if there was a Kim Jong-il-Jiang Zemin summit in Yangzhou because of the peculiar itinerary which had the elder Kim going from northeast China down to Yangzhou and then back up to Beijing (enabling the opportunity to meet Jiang before Hu Jintao)

    If the author met Kim Jong Nam in Beijing while Kim Jong-il was in China or soon afterward, then the remote possibility exists that there was a secret private meeting between father and son.

    It sure would be nice to know the exact date in May 2011 that the author met Kim Jong Nam in Beijing. I can not find the whiskey anecdote in any other book reviews.

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