What is known about Kim Jong Nam? He seems as reclusive as his father.
There's a lot of contradictory information circulating about Kim Jong Nam. He was the first-born son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, it's believed, and was born in 1971. His mother was a well-known actress in North Korea, and Kim Jong Il, who is a well-known movie buff, met her, and according to one account, forced her to divorce her husband and become his mistress. Kim Jong Nam's life after that is pretty much shrouded in mystery. In North Korea people don't even know about him. I've talked to defectors here in Seoul who say they only learned that Kim Jong Il had this son when they arrived in South Korea. But there is a book written by his mother's sister, who has defected from North Korea. She has written two books about her life in North Korea, and in one of those, she described Kim Jong Nam's childhood. According to her, he was pretty much kept in isolation and wasn't given much of a chance to play with friends. She recounts one incident when his grandmother took him out to some fields, where cows and goats were grazing, and he just kind of sat and watched them. He seemed to be uncomfortable even in that situation, according to the aunt. He was also raised in a very elite atmosphere, surrounded by government officials. So it was a very unnatural childhood, according to her. Kim Jong Nam is also believed to have gone with his mother and another relative to Geneva to study at an international school. But he apparently didn't show much aptitude for study. The aunt said he was more interested in hanging out with girlfriends and driving cars. However he does apparently have a talent for painting. I also talked to a North Korean scholar today who says that Kim Jong Nam has an interest in information technology (IT) and that it was him who got his father interested in technology.
Has he ever been seen in public with his father?
There is a picture circulating of Kim Jong Il sitting with his son and the boy's mother along with some other relatives. We don't know too much about the relationship between father and son, but, according to the aunt, Kim Jong Il kept him isolated as a child. One North Korean defector has been quoted in a monthly newspaper here as saying that Kim Jong Nam is a spitting image of his father. It's also been reported that the sons and daughters of the elite in Pyongyang say that Kim Jong Nam doesn't really listen to his father and drinks heavily. He also apparently likes shooting, hunting and foreign travel.
There are reports that Kim Jong Il has been grooming him son as his heir.
I talked to a Korean scholar today who disagreed with that. I think the bottom line is it's too early to know whom Kim Jong Il is thinking of to take over from him. It's certainly a possibility. But we also really don't know how many children Kim Jong Il really has. He has three, possibly four, with the mother of Kim Jong Nam and other wives, but one report says he may have as many as eight other children.
Can you confirm that Kim Jong Nam was in fact bound for Disneyland in Tokyo?
It's both bizarre and very funny?
There is one theory circulating here than rather than going to Japan to see Disneyland, he might have been going on a visit more related to his interest in IT. Japan of course is the center of IT in Asia, and North Korea has over the years stolen a lot of high-tech stuff from Japan. There have also been accounts of Kim Jong Nam traveling to Singapore in the past, again related to his interest in technology.
Has North Korea issued a statement over the affair?
We haven't seen any statement, and even South Korea is not commenting. They're dancing around this like everyone else, saying they can't confirm that it's the North Korean leader's son. South Korea, like Japan, is nervous about turning this into a diplomatic incident, which both countries are trying hard to avoid.
Do you expect any diplomatic repercussions arising out of this affair? Or is the
son's deportation to China the end of the matter?
I think everyone is going to try and play this down as much as possible. Japan is doing its best, and I'm sure North Korea would like this to go away. It's embarrassing that the son of the North Korean leader has to travel on false passports. It just highlights how isolated North Korea is.