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North Korea succession: Kim Jong-il's oldest son reveals ruling family fissure

North Korea leader Kim Jong-il's oldest son, Kim Jong-nam, said he is 'personally opposed to the hereditary transfer' of power to his half-brother, Kim Jong-un.

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“I doubt he will say anything for a long time,” says Steve Linton, who has visited North Korea some 70 times dispensing aid. “They’ll show him off to show they are stable. He will not get in front of his old man.”

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Mr. Linton notes, however, a remarkable similarity between the appearance of Kim Jong-un, still in his late 20s, and that of his grandfather, the long-ruling Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994. “They are trying to make him look like his grandfather,” he says, acknowledging rumors that Kim Jong-un has had plastic surgery intended to heighten the family resemblance.

Other critics of dynastic rule

Kim Jong-nam was not the only critic of dynastic rule in North Korea. Christopher Hill, former chief US negotiator on North Korea’s nuclear program, revisiting Seoul, said the succession process raises the question of “whether this is a stable state.”

The Chinese, said Mr. Hill, now dean of international studies at the University of Denver, “really should do some thinking” and “dissociate the notion of status quo from stability because this is not a stable situation.” That remark suggested criticism of China for refusing to join in condemning North Korea for the sinking of the South Korean ship the Cheonan in March, killing 46 sailors, while calling instead for “stability on the Korean peninsula.”

Linton, however, says North Korea is increasingly dependent on China. “With every day that passes they’re less interested in the US connection,” he says. “They’re resigned to the Chinese connection,” he goes on, meaning that North Korea has no option other than to obtain aid from China for survival.

Kim Jong-nam's comments come just before the death of Hwang Jang-yop, a far more outspoken critic of North Korea’s dynasty.

Hwang Jang-yop, one-time chairman of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly and a tutor to Kim Jong-il in his youth, died early Sunday of an apparent heart attack in the home that South Korea’s National Intelligence Service had provided him. Mr. Hwang, under constant guard against possible assassination by North Korean agents, defected while on a trip to China in 1997 by entering the South Korean embassy to Beijing with an aide.

South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak sent a message of condolences to the mortuary in Seoul where hundreds of visitors have paid respects before his coffin.

The government planned to confer on him posthumously its “order of civil merit,” its highest recognition, for his fiery defiance of a regime whose inner workings he exposed in great detail.