Following the apparent murder of Kim Jong Il’s eldest son, Kim Jong Nam, at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport, news of the incident has made its way back into North Korea and is quickly spreading throughout the country by word of mouth.
Although the North Korean authorities have yet to comment on the incident domestically, residents inside North Korea, having heard the news from traders in the border areas and from Hwagyo (members of the ethnic Chinese community), see the incident as a foregone conclusion.
First and foremost, the traders see Kim Jong Nam’s “extraordinary magnanimity” as the main impetus for his suspected assassination.
“Kim Jong Nam was quite brilliant as a leading smuggling figure, who worked to maintain slush funds for Kim Jong Il. It is likely that Kim Jong Un felt insecure because Kim Jong Nam was not only said to be protected by the Chinese government but also had a wide network of overseas resources,” a longtime North Korean trader working Liaoning Province, China, told Daily NK on February 15.
Born to parents Kim Jong Il and actress Sung Hye Rim, Kim Jong Nam was known to have majored in Political Science and Diplomacy at Geneva University, Switzerland, and worked for the Ministry of State Security in the 1990s. He was once acknowledged to be Kim Jong Il’s heir apparent, but his political career was shaken after his aunt Sung Hye Rang sought exile in the United States in 1996, and he has lived overseas reportedly under the protection of China since, while expanding his network of connections.
For this reason, Kim Jong Nam’s name is well known to trading company heavyweights on both sides of the Sino-North Korea border. His main area of focus was Macau, a central smuggling hub, and rumors in the trading community suggest that Kim Jong Nam was in charge of most major trade deals for some time.
“Kim Jong Un has been battling with international isolation, so Kim Jong Nam’s bold movements must not have been taken well. It is likely that he regarded Kim Jong Nam as a dangerous person who threatened his power,” another trader in China commented.
He added that the fact that Kim Jong Nam’s mother was born in North Korea, unlike Kim Jong Un’s mother, Ko Yong Hui (who was born in Japan), may also have implications for the legitimacy of the ruler within the so-called Paektu bloodline, which the regime uses to legitimize its successive hereditary rule.
Residents in the border areas are confident that Kim Jong Nam’s death was mandated by the authorities, which they determined based on news spread mostly by the Hwagyo community. The regime strictly controls the influx of external information, but it cannot completely block the movement of members of the Chinese overseas network that are frequently in touch with international news.
“Those who find the information received from the Hwagyo credible click their tongues and are incredulous about who else would dare to kill the offspring of the Paektu bloodline,” a source in North Pyongan Province said.
“Many assume that as Kim Jong Un executed his own uncle (Jang Song Thaek) it’s hardly a leap that he would kill his own brother, seeing it as a predictable outcome from the beginning of his reign.”
*This article was amended on February 26 , 2017. It previously stated that Kim Jong Un’s mother’s last name was Kim. Her last name was Ko.