|This combination of file photos shows Kim Jong-nam, left, exiled half-brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un, in Narita, Japan, May 4, 2001, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, May 9, 2016, in Pyongyang. / AP-Yonhap
Murder of half-brother shows NK leader's cruelty, characteristics
By Jun Ji-hye
The apparent assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's elder half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, will test the North's critical ties with China because the victim had long been protected by Beijing, sources said Wednesday.
South Korea's spy agency confirmed that Kim Jong-nam, the 45-year-old eldest son of the late leader Kim Jong-il, was murdered Monday with poison in Malaysia by two women who are presumed to be North Korean agents, both of women whom are still at large.
Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, said if Pyongyang is confirmed to have been involved in the murder, the North's relations with China, its one and only powerful ally, could worsen, given that Jong-nam had close ties with people in Beijing.
"The North will face fierce criticism and pressure from the international community over its act of terrorism," he said.
South Korean intelligence officials said that China had been protecting the elder brother in preparation for a sudden change in North Korea such as a coup. Sources cited as an example that Beijing provided him with bodyguards when he was in the country.
When Kim Jong-nam barely survived an assassination attempt in 2010 in Beijing, China also reportedly urged the North to behave "prudently."
Pyongyang-Beijing relations have been going downhill since Kim Jong-un executed his uncle and former No. 2 man, Jang Song-thaek, in December 2013. Jang was mentioned as the leader's mentor who played a key role in the North's diplomatic and economic cooperation with China.
Pyongyang attempted to recover the relationship by sending a high-ranking official to Beijing. But the relationship has shown no notable improvement due to the North's continuous provocations such as nuclear tests and missile launches, which led to China's participation in U.N. Security Council resolutions.
South Korea's decision to deploy a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile battery here last year despite China's protests was expected to push Beijing closer to the North.
But this assassination could stop any reconciliation between the two, experts noted.
China's state media criticized the killing. The Global Times said the assassination to further consolidate the North Korean leader's power was unacceptable, calling it a "cruel and political act."
|The car of the ambassador of North Korea to Malaysia leaves the forensic department of a hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday. Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was killed in Malaysia, Monday, in what appeared to be an assassination carried out by female agents. / AP-Yonhap
5 years of assassination plots
Seoul's National Intelligence Service Director Lee Byung-ho told lawmakers that for the past five years Pyongyang has been attempting to assassinate Jong-nam based on Kim Jong-un's "delusional disorder."
Asked why the dictator would have killed his half-brother at the expense of Pyongyang-Beijing relations, Lee said, "That might be because of his personal traits."
Experts said the incident, which followed the North's surprise launch of a new intermediate-range ballistic missile, Sunday, is likely to be a major issue during the upcoming G20 foreign ministers meeting beginning today in Germany.
Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se plans to hold talks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the meeting.
"I think the recent incidents involving the North will draw keen attention," Yun told reporters before departing Korea.