With his older brother dead after a poison attack in Kuala Lumpur’s airport, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has seen yet another potential rival drop dead. Does that mean the 33-year-old is behind the murder of his half-brother?
“Yes, almost certainly,” North Korea expert Van Jackson told Bloomberg. “He lives a nightmare version of Machiavellian court politics every day, and bloodline is still the strongest claim to legitimate rule in North Korea: Eliminating potential centers of power is cold but shrewd.”
Though Kim Jong-nam had been living in exile for more than decade by the time of his murder Monday, his role as Kim Jong-un’s elder and his occasional criticism of his younger brother made him a “possible alternative if elites ever moved to oust” Dennis Rodman’s biggest fan, Bloomberg says. As The Wall Street Journal reports, Kim Jong-nam was “the object of persistent speculation that China was grooming him as a kind of ruler-in-waiting.”
Lee Byung-ho, the leader of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, reportedly told lawmakers in Seoul Wednesday that Kim Jong-un has had a “standing order” to kill Kim Jong-nam since he took over North Korea in 2011. “This is not a calculated action to remove Kim Jong-nam because he was a challenge to power per se, but rather reflected Kim Jong-un’s paranoia,” Lee Byung-ho reportedly said in a meeting with South Korea’s National Assembly. While Kim Jong-un is widely considered to be behind his brother’s murder, the only person in trouble so far is a 28-year-old woman, who allegedly attacked Kim Jong-nam while wearing a shirt that said “LOL.”
Now, Kim Jong-un has only three living siblings, none of whom are seen as threats to his power. Neither of his sisters, who are thought to be part of the North Korean government, would stand much of a chance of rising to power in the highly patriarchal country. And older brother Kim Jong-chul “isn’t seen as a main threat to usurp power,” Bloomberg says. In fact, he’s not seen much at all, except for that time in 2015 when he showed up at an Eric Clapton concert in London.