North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s older half-brother Kim Jong-nam was killed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia on February 13. CCTV footage has recently been revealed to show the moment when Kim Jong-nam was attacked by two women at the airport. Malaysian police have arrested a North Korean man identified as Ri Jong-chol and the two female suspects, who are assumed to be a Vietnamese and Indonesian, respectively. The police said on Wednesday that a diplomat at the North Korean embassy and an employee of North Korea’s national airline, Air Koryo, are among those involved in the killing. The police added that they believe that four out of five suspects of North Korean nationality have already arrived in Pyongyang. Meanwhile, North Korean Ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol has flatly denied Pyongyang’s responsibility for the killing, saying that he did not trust the investigation of Malaysian police. If it is confirmed that North Korea was behind what appears to be an assassination, it will inevitably deepen Pyongyang’s isolation on the diplomatic arena even further. Here’s Hong Hyun-ik, senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, to explain.
In the process of investigation for now, North Korea and Malaysia are at odds, confronting and accusing each other. The incident occurred in Malaysia, while the suspects apparently include a Vietnamese and an Indonesian. It is assumed that North Korea exploited them to commit a crime, so Pyongyang’s relations with these two Southeast Asian countries as well as those with Malaysia are expected to worsen. The North Korean regime is believed to have committed a terrorist attack, which is one of the biggest security threats in the 21st century, at the state level. As a result of these accusations, I imagine North Korea will come under even severer international criticism and its diplomatic isolation will be deepened.
Kim Jong-nam was born as the eldest son of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and Song Hye-rim. He died at the age of 47. In the late 1990s, he emerged as the nation’s future leader but he was eliminated from the list of potential successors in 2009, when the position of heir apparent was passed on to his younger half-brother Kim Jong-un. Afterwards, he expressed his negative views about the third-generation power transition in North Korea through various channels. It is said that he lived under assassination threats.
It is likely that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un saw his half-brother, who is more than ten years older than he is, as a threat to the legitimacy of his rule. The existence of Kim Jong-nam may have placed a significant burden on the current leader. In fact, Jong-nam did not receive education as a communist dictator. Rather, he was deeply interested in liberal ideas and a market economy during his years of studying in Moscow and Switzerland. It seems his father Kim Jong-il was reluctant to transfer power because he was infatuated with Western ideas. When the former leader prepared to pass on the reign to his youngest son Kim Jong-un in 2009, Jong-nam felt a threat to his own safety. And in 2011, when Kim Jong-il died, Jong-nam flew home to North Korea to attend his father’s funeral, but decided to quickly leave again after sensing further threats.
As North Korea is suspected of being behind the recent killing of Kim Jong-nam, the rumors about the shocking incident is likely to spread throughout North Korea. This might tarnish the image of Kim Jong-un as a leader who cares for his people. Also, the murder will agitate the power elite in Pyongyang because it will remind them of their leader’s so-called “reign of terror,” in which people are brutally eliminated if they show any signs of becoming detrimental to the leader.
To sustain his regime and strengthen his legitimacy, the North Korean leader has to hide the existence of Kim Jong-nam. Therefore, North Korean authorities will try very hard to prevent the citizens from hearing about his death. But the news will spread around the country after all, since there are about 3.7 million mobile phones in use there. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the news will stir up the general public. But for many of those in power, who are aware of the leader’s half-brother, the rumors about his assassination may create a mood of fear. There may be growing, implicit criticism of the leader’s immoral, fratricidal violence. In the process, Kim Jong-un’s legitimacy might be weakened.
In the meantime, China’s Commerce Ministry announced that it would suspend all imports of coal from North Korea until the end of the year, starting February 19. With North Korea suffering stronger international sanctions following its nuclear test last year, coal exports, in effect, remain the last source of foreign currency. Therefore, China’s latest measure is expected to deal a severe blow to Pyongyang. China’s Foreign Ministry stressed that the ban was in line with the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions against Pyongyang and that it had nothing to do with the recent killing of Kim Jong-nam. But diplomatic experts predict that there will be some change in relations between North Korea and China.
North Korea has recently claimed that it successfully conducted the test of a solid-fuel missile on a mobile launcher. Pyongyang called the intermediate-range missile Pukguksong-2. The name is translated as the “North Star.” The test annoyed China, which had been seeking to restore peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and to resolve the nuclear issue through dialogue. Moreover, the recently killed Kim Jong-nam was believed to be under China’s protection. There is speculation that China decided to suspend its coal imports from North Korea in retaliation for Pyongyang’s recent provocative acts. The announcement came after Kim’s death, and it is considered a warning message toward North Korea.
If North Korea is confirmed to have killed Kim Jong-nam, following its intermediate ballistic missile launch on February 12, the nation is expected to face even stronger international pressure and sanctions.
The U.S. places great emphasis on ethics and human rights. Furthermore, prevention of terror is one of the top tasks of the Trump administration. As North Korea is believed to have committed an act of terror, there are growing calls within the U.S. Congress for North Korea to be put back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. The U.S. government took Pyongyang off the list in 2008. The recent murder of Kim Jong-nam will probably reinforce Washington’s hard-line policy toward the communist regime, and the U.S. is likely to put greater pressure on North Korea over human rights issues. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un killed his uncle Jang Song-thaek. If the past is any guide, it appears that he also ordered the death of his half brother. The U.N. Human Rights Council and other human rights organizations will likely lash out at North Korea, prompting the move to bring Kim Jong-un to stand before the International Criminal Court as the dictator responsible for human rights violations.
Attention now turns to how North Korea’s latest missile launch and the murder of Kim Jong-nam will influence regional diplomacy in Northeast Asia.
[Interview] Lecturers’ Association Consisting of N. Korean Defectors
Early this month, Kim Na-young, president of the Top Lecturers’ Association for Unification Preparation, was named the head of the Education Subcommittee at the Korea Lecturers’ Association.
The Korea Lecturers’ Association has some 50-thousand instructors, but the group has only produced 205 top lecturers since it was founded in 2003. Among them, I was the 172nd top lecturer, becoming the first North Korean defector to receive the honor. I was appointed the head of the Education Subcommittee on unification and security issues. My job is to teach these important issues. I’m proud of being in charge of a subcommittee of this large association as a North Korean defector.
Kim escaped from North Korea in 1998 and arrived in South Korea in 2008. She resettled here while doing business with her husband. After the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan and North Korea’s artillery attack on the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong in 2010, she was determined to help the South Korean public learn about North Korea correctly. That’s why she became a lecturer. Her topics vary, from security matters to different social issues.
Education for South Korean soldiers comprises 60 to 70 percent of my lectures. I teach them how to perceive the state and the enemy correctly and how to deal with security concerns properly. I also provide them with personality education. For elementary school students, I tell them how wonderful liberal democracy is. For office workers, I lecture on sexual harassment in the workplace. This phrase doesn’t even exist in North Korea. Recalling my life in North Korea, I think many women were sexually harassed. In general, North Koreans do not know exactly what sexual harassment means. Male defectors from North Korea should be very careful here. After unification, we have to educate men in North Korea on this sensitive issue.
As of 2016, Kim had lectured 2,000 times for people from all walks of life, including soldiers, students, housewives and senior citizens. In her lectures, she compared and analyzed socialism and liberal democracy she had experienced herself. Her lectures were recognized for contributing to forming a social consensus on the need for unification and earned her a title, “top lecturer of the nation.” Encouraged by the achievement, she launched the Top Lecturers’ Association for Unification Preparation consisting of North Korean instructors in 2015.
As I became a successful lecturer, I realized that North Korean defectors were capable enough to be popular lecturers here in South Korea. I created this community of North Korean lecturers in the hopes that I would help my fellow expats join the ranks of top lecturers at the Korea Lecturers’ Association. The lecturers here have experienced both North and South Korea. They have the potential to offer lectures that would remedy some weak points in South Korean society. Once defectors start their career as lecturers here, they are all able to become best instructors. That’s why I named the group the Top Lecturers’ Association for Unification Preparation.
There are about 25 members in the association. They have joined the group with the mission of leading the efforts toward Korea’s unification, based on their experiences in both South and North Korea. Kim is known as a star lecturer, and she is willing to pass on her expertise to the group members.
I tell the members to talk about their own stories—something shocking they experienced in North Korea. Sharing those types of stories helps audience members to see what North Korea is like. But, I also stress that the lecturers should study. The North Korea of today is drastically different from the one we left. If someone asks about today’s North Korea, we can’t say, “I don’t know. I only know about old North Korea.” Rather, we have to explain, “North Korea was like this or that in the past, but according to the latest sources, things have changed.” I encourage the lecturers to continue to study in order to answer the questions properly.
The association’s vice president Song Mi-ae and lecturer Kim Nan-ju talk about President Kim, who is like a big sister and role model to the members.
When lecturing, the president is very enthusiastic. It looks like she works with her own convictions and a sense of duty. She is truly dedicated to delivering what she has in mind to other people. She appeals to the audiences as a lecturer of great charm and distinction.
She is beautiful and attractive from head to toe. Willpower, confidence and strong convictions are the strengths of her lectures. I believe many North Korean defectors can find hope in her. I wish she will become an inspiring lecturer, like a star lighting up the wider world.
Kim is doing her doctoral studies with the purpose of gaining more professional knowledge. She hopes to work as a lecturer even after Korea is unified so she can contribute to bringing people in the two Koreas together, and help them better communicate with each other.
I hope that we, North Korean lecturers, can take the lead in nurturing 24-million North Koreans as decent citizens in a democratic, unified era. North Koreans do not know anything about how citizens in a democratic society live. It is common for South Koreans to wait in line for something, even without being taught. But that’s not the case in North Korea. Many people in the North tend to intrude, scream and use bad language. It will be necessary to educate them after unification. And North Korean lecturers here, compared to their South Korean counterparts, can approach people in the North in a more convincing way since they know well about their home country. That’s why the lecturers should be prepared for the future unification of Korea. Their own experience in South Korea will appeal greatly to North Korean citizens. I’m sure North Korean lecturers will play an important role before and after unification.
We want to applaud instructor Kim, who is probably giving a lecture somewhere at this moment in the hopes of promoting peaceful communication between South and North Korea.