NORTH KOREA: Sibling Resentment Or a Clear-Eyed Assessment?

Not everyone appears thrilled that North Korea’s new beloved leader is second-son Kim Jong-un, reported to be all of 28 years old. Case in point: His elder brother, Kim Jong-Nam. Jong-Nam is quoted extensively in a new book, “My Father: Kim Jong-Il, and Me,” candidly criticizing what he sees as the shortcomings of his brother’s governing and leadership potential.

So, is this a case of fraternal jealousy or a rare glimpse into a young man ill-equipped to lead, a glimpse that North Koreans would be wise to consider if only they were exposed to it? Jong-Nam, it should be remembered, was long considered heir apparent to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. He now reportedly lives in exile in, among other places, Macau.

For starters, Jong-Nam reports a true shocker in the book: His father, he claims, was opposed to any kind of third-generation hereditary succession, worrying that “anyone with common sense will see that a transfer of power to the third generation can’t be done.” Next, Jong-Nam flatly predicts that the youthful Jong-Un won’t be running things for long: The existing power elite will take over and Jong-Un will morph into no more than a symbolic figure.

Says Jong-Nam, with some obvious feeling: “It is questionable how a hereditary successor who has been through (successor) training for only about two years can take over the absolute authority that has continued for 37 years.”

Written by Tokyo-based journalist Yoji Gomi, “My Father” is based on more than 150 email exchanges and seven hours of interviews with Jong-Nam since the two first met in 2004. One email from the obviously upset North Korean to the Japanese journalist predicts economic collapse for his homeland unless urgent reform is undertaken.

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