POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 28, 2011
SEOUL » North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's eldest son said in an interview published Friday that his father opposed continuing the family dynasty into a third generation but ended up naming his youngest son as heir to keep the country stable.
The comments by Kim Jong Nam, portrayed in the media as a casino-loving playboy, were published in a Japanese newspaper just as North Korea proposed holding parliamentary talks with South Korea — its latest diplomatic overture after months of animosity.
A senior U.S. envoy also held high-level talks in China on Friday on ways to deal with North Korea, and Russian and South Korean nuclear envoys held discussions in Seoul.
Kim Jong Il is preparing his country for a leadership change, apparently to his youngest son Kim Jong Un, and some analysts have linked two violent incidents last year to an attempt to display the younger Kim's bravery to North Korea's military and bolster his legitimacy as the next leader.
Hereditary succession "does not fit with socialism, and my father was against it as well," the Tokyo Shimbun quoted Kim Jong Nam as saying in an interview in a southern Chinese city in mid-January. "My understanding is that (succession) was to stabilize the internal system. An unstable North Korea leads to instability in the region."
Kim 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. He favors newsboy caps and Ferragamo loafers, frequents five-star hotels and expensive restaurants and spends much of his time in mainland China or Macau — the center of Asian gambling.
He 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. They did not mean to challenge or criticize him."
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.
He also said that North Korea's strength comes from nuclear weapons, and that as long as North Korea confronts the United States, it is very unlikely to give up its atomic programs.
Meanwhile, the North's Central Committee of the Democratic Front for the Reunification of Korea proposed Friday that lawmakers from the two Koreas talk to overcome the "grave situation" on the divided peninsula. It did not elaborate.
South Korea quickly dismissed the idea, saying that the two sides were already discussing a meeting to plan high-level defense talks. Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung called the proposal "a routine offensive that lacks sincerity."
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.
"Dialogue and negotiations are the only way for averting a war," North Korea said in a statement carried by its official Korean Central News Agency.
South Korea has recently pressed North Korea to agree to separate talks to verify its commitment to abandoning its nuclear programs. The North has yet to respond.
In Seoul, Russia's North Korean nuclear envoy, Alexey Borodavkin, was to meet with his South Korean counterpart, Wi Sung-lac.
The United States also has been working to cool tensions on the peninsula.
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg met Friday with China's top foreign policy official, Dai Bingguo, in Beijing.
Washington has been pressing China to use its influence to persuade North Korea to end recent provocations and return to disarmament talks.
Inter-Korean tensions were a main topic of discussion when Chinese President Hu Jintao met with President Barack Obama in Washington earlier this month, but the talks yielded no apparent commitment from Beijing to pressure North Korea.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank warned in a report that China's reluctance to openly criticize North Korea over the provocations was undermining attempts to tamp down tensions and renew dialogue.
"China's refusal to hold Pyongyang to account for its deadly attacks on South Korea prevents a unified international response," Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, the group's North East Asia Project Director, said in a statement.
"It invites further North Korean military and nuclear provocations and the increased militarization of North East Asia."