SEOUL, South Korea – The outcast oldest son once poised to inherit power in North Korea now says his father Kim Jong Il opposed continuing the family dynasty into a third generation but ended up naming his youngest son as heir to ensure stability.
The comments by Kim Jong Nam, a casino-loving playboy who's thought to have ruined his chances at succession by trying to sneak into Japan 10 years ago to visit a Disney resort, came in an interview published Friday. Jong Nam spends much of his time in mainland China or Macau, the center of Asian gambling, and occasionally speaks to reporters about events inside his homeland.
The Tokyo Shimbun newspaper quoted him as saying that hereditary succession "does not fit with socialism, and my father was against it."
But the behavior of Kim Jong Il, who succeeded his father, Kim Il Sung, in communism's first hereditary transfer of power, doesn't suggest a wariness to pass along power. Kim is now preparing for another leadership change, apparently to his youngest son Kim Jong Un, and two attacks on the South last year could be linked to an attempt to bolster the younger Kim's legitimacy as the next leader.
Kim Jong Nam, however, portrayed his father's decision to pass on the mantle as a realistic assessment of the North's political needs.
"My understanding is that (succession) was to stabilize the internal system. An unstable North Korea leads to instability in the region," he said in the interview conducted in an unnamed southern Chinese city in mid-January.
Diplomats in the region and the West are also worried about the future of North Korea, and Jong Nam's comments were published as high-level discussions on what to do about the North — and especially its nuclear program — took place in China and South Korea on Friday. A U.S. envoy was in Beijing and a Russian diplomat was in Seoul.
The Koreas have been in a standoff following the North's shelling of a South Korean island in November and its alleged attack on a South Korean warship last March. But South Korea rebuffed the North's latest diplomatic overture — a proposal to hold parliamentary talks that came Friday — as insincere, saying that the two sides were already involved in setting up other talks.
Kim Jong Nam said he wants his half brother "to become a leader who is respected by people."
"I want him to take over the great works my father has done. I want him to enrich people's lives," he said in the interview. "Those are my honest wishes for my brother."
Jong Nam is believed to have fallen out of favor after embarrassing the North Korean government in 2001 when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport, saying he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland. The potbellied eldest son favors newsboy caps and Ferragamo loafers and frequents five-star hotels and expensive restaurants.
He declined to comment on the health of his father, who reportedly suffered a stroke in 2008, but said he keeps in touch with family members.
Jong Nam also said that North Korea's strength comes from its nuclear weapons program, and that as long as the United States poses a threat to North Korea it is very unlikely to give up its atomic programs.
On Friday, the North's Central Committee of the Democratic Front for the Reunification of Korea proposed that lawmakers from the two Koreas talk to overcome the "grave situation" on the divided peninsula. It did not elaborate.
South Korea, which quickly dismissed the idea, has recently pressed North Korea to hold separate talks to verify its commitment to abandoning its nuclear programs, a crucial matter to many in Asia and the West. The North has yet to respond.
North Korea is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium to make at least a half-dozen atomic bombs. In November, it also revealed a uranium enrichment facility that could give it a second way to make nuclear weapons.
In Seoul, visiting Russian nuclear envoy Alexey Borodavkin called the uranium enrichment program a serious issue that violates U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Also Friday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg met in Beijing with China's top foreign policy official, Dai Bingguo.
Washington has been pressing China to use its influence to persuade North Korea to end recent aggression and return to disarmament talks.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank warned in a report that China's reluctance to openly criticize North Korea over its violent behavior undermines attempts to tamp down tensions and renew dialogue.
"It invites further North Korean military and nuclear provocations and the increased militarization of North East Asia," Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, the group's North East Asia Project Director, said in a statement.
AP writers Kim Kwang-tae in Seoul, Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo contributed to this report.