TOKYO — The Japanese author of a book about Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean leader’s half brother who was killed this week at a Malaysian airport, says Kim opposed his family’s hereditary rule and wanted economic reforms.
Tokyo-based journalist Yoji Gomi’s book “My Father, Kim Jong Il, and Me,” provides a rare view into North Korea’s ruling family, including Kim Jong Nam, who was apparently assassinated on Monday.
Gomi said Kim Jong Nam, the son of late North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and the half brother of current leader Kim Jong Un, represented a small hope for change in the isolated communist country.
“I thought he was someone who has something meaningful to say, and perhaps bring change to North Korea,” Gomi said at a news conference in Tokyo on Friday.
Their seven-year relationship began in 2004 when Gomi met Kim Jong Nam by chance at Beijing’s international airport, leading to exchanges of 150 emails and two interviews in 2011 — one in Beijing and another in Macau — totaling seven hours, Gomi said.
“He was critical of the North Korean regime,” and said its hereditary leadership “does not agree with a socialist system, and the leader should be chosen through a democratic process,” Gomi said.
Kim Jong Nam also said North Korea cannot survive without Chinese-style economic reforms, Gomi said.
He said Kim Jong Nam appeared nervous during their 2011 interview in Macau.
“He must have been aware of the danger, but I believe he still wanted to convey his views to Pyongyang via the media,” Gomi said. “He was sweating all over his body, and seemed very uncomfortable when he responded to my questions. He was probably worried about the impact of his comments and expressions. The thought now gives me a pain in my heart.”
There is wide speculation that North Korea’s government was involved in Kim Jong Nam’s death. Malaysian police have arrested three people in the case, but it’s not yet known whether they have links to North Korea.
Kim Jong Nam said the Chinese government protected him in China and gave him a bodyguard, but did not do so elsewhere in Asia, Gomi said.
South Korea’s intelligence service says Beijing had long protected Kim Jong Nam, perhaps because it may have seen him as a future North Korean leader should the current government in Pyongyang collapse.
Kim Jong Nam’s frequent trips to Southeast Asian countries in recent years may have indicated a growing distance between him and China’s government, Gomi said.
After spending his teens in Europe, Kim Jong Nam traveled in North Korea with Kim Jong Il, an indication his father once considered his oldest son as a possible successor.
Kim Jong Nam believed he fell from his father’s favor because of his criticism of the regime, Gomi said. Kim Jong Nam said he couldn’t comment on Kim Jong Un because they had never met.
Kim Jong Nam apparently found his country too rigid. He enjoyed dining at a restaurant in China where South Koreans, Japanese and other nationalities freely gathered, enjoying drinking and talking, Gomi said.
“He said he hoped to see the world become like that, without walls, someday. I still can’t forget that comment,” Gomi said.
Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at twitter.com/mariyamaguchi
Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/mari-yamaguchi