North Korea drama: Where are Kim Jong-un's brothers?
Conspicuously absent from all images coming out of North Korea are Kim Jong-il's two other sons.
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David Straub, associate director of the Korea Studies program at Stanford, makes another comparison. “When you look at North Korea ’s situation, you need to think in terms of European monarchies and dynasties,” he says. “This is the way dynasties in nondemocratic countries behave.”Skip to next paragraph
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'Stuff of legend'
Still, Straub compares the court drama in North Korea with that of medieval Europe in which royal rivalries and assassinations were the stuff of legend.
Kim Jong-nam, mentioned as a possible successor before Japanese immigration officials in 2001 nabbed him at Tokyo’s Narita Airport trying to enter Japan with a fake Dominican passport, has lived for years in the gambling center of Macao on the southeastern China coast. His excuse that he wanted to take his 4-year-old son to Disneyland did not impress the Japanese authorities, who finally sent him on to China after holding him for several days.
After that, Kim Jong-nam appeared to have been on the outs with his father. He was reported in the media here to have heard of his father’s death from Chinese, not North Korean, officials while visiting Beijing but was reportedly banned from flying to Pyongyang and is believed to have returned to Macao.
Before the incident at Narita, so worried was his step mother, the mother of Jong-un and Jong-chul, that Jong-nam was a possible rival for power with her own sons that she is rumored to have wanted to have him assassinated during a trip to Europe some time before she passed away in Paris.
Kim Jong-nam may have fallen still deeper into disfavor after a Japanese newspaper early this year quoted him as saying “hereditary succession” did not “fit socialism and my father was against it” but it “was done to stabilize the framework of the nation.”
“He’s talked about succession in unflattering terms,” says Mr. Breen. “That regime is very unflattering to those who betray them.” He notes that a nephew of Kim Il-sung was assassinated by North Korean agents in 1997 after defecting to South Korea and writing a tell-all book about his uncle.