By Juni Kim
Monday’s assassination of Kim Jong-un’s eldest half-brother Kim Jong-nam has been widely thought to have been carried out on the North Korean regime’s order, perhaps even coming from Kim Jong-un himself. If this proves to be true, the murder of Kim Jong-nam marks an infamous dip for the regime into fratricide. Kim Jong-un’s purge of his uncle Jang Song-taek in 2013 has demonstrated his willingness to kill family members, and his older brother’s murder will surely have significant implications in North Korea’s inner circles.
Kim Jong-nam was once seen as the heir apparent to continue the Kim dynasty, but his embarrassing and widely publicized attempt to visit Tokyo Disneyland in 2001 led to his eventual passing over for succession. While Kim Jong-nam had largely been living abroad in recent years, Kim Jong-un’s other known siblings have played various roles in Pyongyang politics. Below is a brief overview of the family line.
As a caveat, the number of romantic partners of Kim Jong-il and children he fathered has been subject to rampant speculation, and the true number of how many children the former North Korean leader had may never be known.
Kim Jong-il’s eldest daughter and Kim Jong-un’s older half-sister Kim Sol-song was allegedly favored by her father and held high positions during his regime. Her current standing under her younger brother’s rule is uncertain, but she is likely to still hold influence in the regime’s inner circles. Some experts have speculated that her influence has diminished under Kim Jong-un in deference to the increased power role of her younger sister Kim Yeo-jong.
Kim Jong-il reportedly had a second daughter with his wife Kim Young-sook named Kim Chun-song, though little is known of her and her current activity.
Kim Jong-chol, Kim Jong Il’s second-oldest son and Kim Jong-un’s full brother, was reportedly under consideration to be Kim Jong Il’s successor, but fell out of favor with the former North Korean leader for being “girlish.” Despite the slight, Kim Jong-chol appears to be in good standing with his younger brother. Lee Yun-keol of the Seoul-based North Korea Strategic Information Service Center stated that Kim Jong-chol had a hand in the purge of Kim Jong-il’s influential brother-in-law Jang Song-taek, which was orchestrated by Kim Jong-un.
Kim Jong-chol’s general disinterest in his country’s politics has also been widely reported. Former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong Ho, who defected late last year from the DPRK’s London Embassy, accompanied Kim Jong-chol on his visit to London to see an Eric Clapton concert in 2015 (video of Kim Jong-chol at the concert can be seen here). In a recent interview, Thae stated that Kim spoke little of Pyongyang politics during the trip and is “only interested in guitars and music.” According to Thae, Kim Jong-chol regularly plays with North Korea’s state-sponsored pop group “Moranbong Band” and is a skilled musician.
Kim Jong-un’s younger full sister Kim Yeo-jong has had a prominent role in the Kim Jong-un regime. In November 2014, she became the Vice Director of the Workers Party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department, which handles state propaganda, and has reportedly purged senior officials. The younger Kim is frequently seen at public events accompanying her elder brother, and some commentators have speculated that she may be North Korea’s most powerful woman. In remarks made last month, Thae indicated that Kim Yeo-jong holds more influence over Kim Jong-un than his wife Ri Sol-ju, and that senior regime officials respect her position.
Juni Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). The views expressed here are the author’s alone.
Photo from Prachatai’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons. Graphic by Juni Kim.