Why would North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un kill half-brother Kim Jong-nam?

After testing ballistic missile North Korea is again in the headlines as Kim Jong-un’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam died. We do not know what really happened, he might be even killed by NK agents, but in general does his dead mean anything for Kim Jong-un as it seem that his regime is firmly in control as also the missile launch might suggest? Or do you assess the position of Kim Jong-un differently? Read few comments.

Sung-Yoon LeeProfessor in Korean Studies and Assistant Professor at The Fletcher School, Tufts University

Kim Jong Nam (KJN) has been critical of Kim Jong Un’s third-generational hereditary succession (TV Asahi interview in Oct 2010). KJN is the eldest son of Kim Jong Il. Korea has a long history of primogeniture. Hence, KJN was groomed as the heir in the 1990s, until he brought “dishonor” to the family in May 2001 trying to enter Japan with his wife, maid, and son (Han-Sol), with a fake Dominican Republic passport. They were apprehended at Narita International Airport, and shortly thereafter returned to North Korea.

What’s the point of rubbing him off? KJN reportedly has been Beijing’s favorite, which could mean one day the CCP may overthrow Kim Jong Un and install KJN. Kim Jong Un has a serious legitimacy problem in terms of his bloodline. His mother, Ko Young-Hui (died 2004), who was a dancer, was born in Japan. Kim himself probably was born in Vienna or Geneva while Ko was living abroad. The Japanese bloodline has serious negative implications for the Korean Sun God. His grandfather’s legitimacy is derived from his small-time resistance against Imperial Japan in the late 1930s and 1940s.

But, more to the point, this assassination sends a chilling message to all would-be challengers to Kim Jong Un: You dare, and beware. Disobey, and this is your grim fate. Kim’s Korean Kingdom operates like a giant criminal syndicate, in which counterfeiting, drugs-selling, human-trafficking, and murdering family members are the accepted norms–the basic, irreplaceable mode of operation.

Charles ArmstrongProfessor of Korean Studies in the Social Sciences, Department of History, Columbia University

We may never know how Kim Jong-nam died but there have been rumors for years that NK agents wanted him dead, because he is a potential rival to his brother for power and because he has sometimes spoken quite frankly to the foreign press. Even if Kim Jong Un’s power is as consolidated as it appears to be, he may still see his brother as someday becoming a threat. Thus, it would make sense for Kim to eliminate any and all potential threats to his leadership, at the same time the regime asserts its military power to the world through its missile launch.


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