Kings of communism
The very paranoid supreme North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on how he has been eliminating anyone who might knock him off his throne.
The video begins with no fanfare, no preamble. A lone figure, a young man in black, sits in front of a stark white backdrop. His hair is tousled. He fidgets. Light streams in from his right, but there is nothing to identify where he is or whom he’s with.
He trains his eyes on the camera. “I’m from North Korea,” he says in English. To prove it, he holds up a passport. Emblazoned on the front is a coat of arms featuring Mount Paektu, the sacred and still-active volcano in the far north of the Korean Peninsula, where the Kims trace an ancestry they claim gives the family its right to rule.
He looks off to his left, pausing to collect his thoughts. “My father has been killed a few days ago.” Though the video was released on March 7 of this year, a month before I travelled to Pyongyang, the reference to the death indicates it was filmed weeks earlier. His voice is jumpy but composed. He does not mention which country he’s in now, but he says he’s safe.
There is one clue: an insignia at the top of the screen, in both English and Korean, that reads “Cheollima Civil Defence.” A cheollima is a mythical winged horse capable of flying vast distances. It’s a popular name in North Korea for everything from streets to fonts; a statue of one looms over downtown Pyongyang. It gives the name of the group, which seems to have helped this North Korean flee, a symbolic meaning that’s at once serious and ironic.
He concludes by saying he hopes his situation will get better. The 41-second video then cuts to black.
The young man’s name is Kim Han Sol. His father, Kim Jong Nam, was assassinated in an airport in Kuala Lumpur in February. The person widely believed responsible for issuing the order is Kim Jong Nam’s half-brother, the Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, and the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: Kim Jong Un.
While the World Watches North Korea launch missiles, the very paranoid supreme leader, Kim JONG un, has been busy eliminating anyone in his family Who might KNOCK him off his throne. first, his half-brother Was assassinated With a Nerve agent in a malaysian airport. NOW, his 22-year-old Nephew has Gone into hiding out of fear that he’s Next on his uncle’s hit list.
At 33, Kim Jong Un may be the world’s youngest sitting dictator. But with his nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles, he’s already among the most dangerous. On July Fourth, he gave what he gloated was an Independence Day “gift” to the “American bastards”: the successful test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile designed to obliterate American cities. Once his nuclear scientists get a warhead small enough to fit on the Hwasong-14 missile, he’ll have a weapon capable of wreaking unimaginable destruction.
There is no question how important bombs and missiles are to the North Koreans. But the goal is not to carry out a first strike; with 80,000 US troops across Northeast Asia backed by a fleet of nuclear-powered weaponry, the North Koreans know such a move would be suicide. Kim Jong Un wants to prove his strength to the people he leads, to cause enough concern to force the international community to acknowledge the DPRK as a nuclear state, and to get the US to the negotiating table—for aid and concessions, if not a peace treaty to finally, officially, end the Korean War.
While Kim stares down his enemies abroad, it’s easy to forget that he’s also fighting a battle from within his own borders: to survive at all costs. Like any autocratic leader, he’s under constant pressure to maintain order and allegiance. But his youth and inexperience make staying in power that much more of a challenge, which in turn requires absolute control. Opposition must be eliminated. No one is safe, not even his own family.
Three weeks before his video appeared on Youtube, Kim Han Sol was in Macau with his teenage sister, Sol Hui, who’d just graduated from a nearby Anglican high school, and his mother, Ri Hye Kyong.
Macau was more home to them than Pyongyang. They’d moved to the former Portuguese colony, 40 miles west of Hong Kong and now under Chinese control, in the early 2000s to seek refuge from North Korea. In Macau, the family lived under the protection of local police and could move around with relative ease. There they were safe.
On February 13, Kim Jong Nam was not with them. He
was visiting Kuala Lumpur, a four-hour plane ride away, using a DPRK passport under the name Kim Chol—the North Korean equivalent of John Smith. There are few places in the world where a North Korean citizen can travel without diplomatic hassle. Malaysia is one.
That morning, Kim Jong Nam headed to Kuala Lumpur International Airport to catch a flight back to his family. KLIA2 was bustling with travellers that day, from European backpackers in sandals to Malaysian women in ornately printed hijabs. It was the start of the Lunar New Year, and banners featuring baby chicks festooned the airport walls in celebration of the Year of the Rooster.
What happened next was captured on closed-circuit television later broadcast by a Japanese TV network. Kim Jong Nam, dressed in a T-shirt, jeans, and a summer blazer, strides into the terminal. He is alone and has no luggage, save for a black backpack slung over his shoulder. He stops briefly to check a flight display, then moves toward a line of check-in kiosks. A woman in white approaches him from behind. There is a brief tussle as she reaches around and wipes a cloth across his face. Another woman squeezes in and swipes his cheeks. Seconds later, both slip away, heading in opposite directions and disappearing into the crowd.
Kim lurches toward the information desk, where he interrupts an employee and gestures frantically at his eyes. Police accompany him to the airport’s health clinic, though they don’t appear to be in a hurry; Kim walks on his own. But a photograph taken minutes later shows him slumped in a chair in the clinic, arms outstretched, eyes glazed. He suffered a seizure, police would later say.
Kim died minutes later, in a hospital-bound ambulance. He was 45. Toxicology reports revealed that he was poisoned with the banned nerve agent VX, short for “venomous agent X.” The dose was composed of two tasteless and odourless chemicals that are benign on their own but deadly once mixed—a possible explanation for the two face swipes. A single drop can kill within minutes; the substance can linger for up to half an hour, potentially exposing scores in a crowded space like an airport terminal. Developed during the Cold War for military warfare, it is classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction. According to South Korea’s Ministry of National Defence, VX is just one part of DPRK’S chemical-weapons arsenal, the total size of which they estimate to be 2,500 to 5,000 metric tons.