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North Korea's Kim Jong-un not really in control, says brother

Kim Jong-un's brother reportedly wonders how long North Korea's Kim Jong-un can last – or how much say he will have over his own destiny, let alone that of his people.

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / January 17, 2012

In this undated photo released Wednesday, and distributed Thursday in Tokyo, North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un (r.) inspects the Pyongyang Folk Park under construction in Pyongyang, North Korea. The oldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is casting doubts on his late father's choice of his youngest brother, Kim Jong-un, as leader.

Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service/AP

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Seoul, South Korea

The oldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is casting doubts on his late father’s choice of his youngest brother as “grand successor,” but that’s not dimming the extravaganza of praise within North Korea for Kim Jong-un as “supreme leader.”

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The display of Kim Jong-un riding a white horse and shaking hands with soldiers, as well as reports by the North Korean media that he recommended a military response 2-1/2 years ago to any US attempt to obstruct a missile test, convince analysts that the young man is sure to enjoy the trappings of power for the foreseeable future.

“The messages the North Korean leadership has tried to project are stability, continuity, and control,” says Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. But, he adds, “I do not know what is happening under the surface or if these messages reflect reality in Pyongyang.”

Kim’s oldest brother, Kim Jong-Nam, living in the gambling enclave of Macao on the southeastern coast of China, hinted at the lack of confidence behind the campaign to glorify the new leader, according to a Japanese newspaper.

Rejected by his father as a successor more than 10 years ago, Kim Jong-nam reportedly talked about the buildup of his brother while expressing misgivings. Mr. Kim reportedly told the Tokyo Shimbun in an e-mail that he expected “the existing ruling elite to follow in the footsteps of my father while keeping the young successor as a symbolic figure."

It was “difficult,” he was quoted as saying in a burst of frankness that he has displayed in earlier encounters with the Japanese media, “to accept a third-generation succession under normal reasoning."

Kim Jong-nam was quoted in a newly published book by Japanese journalist Yoji Gomi as having been still more critical.In the book, entitled "My father Kim Jong-Il and Me," he said, "North Korea is very unstable" and "the power of the military has become too strong." Jong-nam, communicating in Korean by e-mail and in interviews with Mr. Gomi last year, is quoted as saying, "If the succession ends in failure, the military will wield the real power for sure."

That perspective from a close but clearly disillusioned relative jibes with the views of foreign analysts who wonder how long Kim Jong-un can last – or whether he can possibly take charge of his own destiny and that of his people.

“The efforts to put Kim Jong-un front and center immediately reflects a rushed succession process,” says Victor Cha, who directed Asian issues on the National Security Council during the presidency of George W. Bush. Mr. Cha, now a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, predicts that what he calls “a Potemkin leadership transition” in Pyongyang “will likely run into problems.”

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