TOKYO – A new book claims that the eldest son of North Korea's late leader Kim Jong Il believes the impoverished regime is in danger of collapse and that his young half-brother, chosen to lead after Kim's death, is merely a figurehead.
The book by Tokyo-based journalist Yoji Gomi went on sale Wednesday. He says it is based primarily on email exchanges he had with Kim Jong Nam over many years.
The book drew immediate attention as a rare view into the family that has led the secretive country for decades -- though Kim Jong Nam is thought to be estranged from his family and the workings of government. Since Kim Jong Il's death Dec. 17, North Korea has been led by his youngest son, Kim Jong Un.
"Jong Un will just be a figurehead," the book quotes Kim Jong Nam as saying. It claims he said the collapse of North Korea's economy is likely unless it initiates reforms, which could also bring it down.
"Without reforms and libereralization, the collapse of the economy is within sight," he quoted Kim as saying. "But reforms and opening up could also invite dangers for the regime."
Gomi, a Tokyo Shimbun journalist who had assignments in Seoul and Beijing, claims he exchanged 150 emails and has spent a total of seven hours interviewing Kim Jong Nam, who was seen as a possible successor until he fell out of favor with Kim Jong Il in 2001.
Gomi says he met Kim Jong Nam in person in 2004, in Beijing, and twice last year. Gomi was not immediately available for comment on the book.
Not long after Kim Jong Il's funeral, Jong Nam suggested in an interview with a Japanese TV network that he opposes a hereditary transfer of power to his young half-brother, who is believed to be in his late 20s.
That was a rare public sign of discord in the tightly choreographed succession process, but analysts said Jong Nam spends so much time outside his native land that his opinion carries little weight.
Kim Jong Nam, who did not attend the funeral, made similar comments in his communications with Gomi, the book claims.
"As a matter of common sense, a transfer to the third generation is unacceptable," Kim Jong Nam was quoted as saying in an email dated this month. "The power elite that have ruled the country will continue to be in control."
He added: "I have my doubts about whether a person with only two years of grooming as a leader can govern."
Party and military officials have moved quickly to install Kim Jong Un as "supreme leader" of the people, party and military.
But the new ruler's youth and quick ascension to power have raised questions in foreign capitals about how ready he is to inherit rule over this nation of 24 million with a nuclear program as well as chronic trouble feeding all its people.
A senior North Korean party official, however, told the AP in a recent interview that Kim Jong Un was ready to lead and had spent years working closely with his late father and helped him make key policy decisions on economic and military affairs.
Kim Jong Nam is widely believed to have dropped out of the succession race after embarrassing the government in 2001, when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport. He said he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
Jong Nam, the oldest of three brothers thought to be in the running, is the closest thing the country has to an international playboy and is the only one who speaks to the foreign media. He travels freely and spends much of his time in China or the country's special autonomous region of Macau -- the center of Asian gambling with its Las Vegas-style casinos.
Experts said he will most likely continue living abroad.
Kim Jong Il is known to have three sons -- one from his second wife and two from his third.
Kim often derided the middle son, Jong Chol, as "girlish," a former Kim Jong Il chef, who goes by the pen name Kenji Fujimoto, said in a 2003 memoir.