When Kim Jong Nam was killed with a deadly nerve agent in an airport in Malaysia in February, it may have thwarted an attempt backed by the Chinese government to overthrow his half-brother, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Citing three sources, Nikkei Asian Review reported on Monday that top government officials in China and North Korea in 2012 seriously considered a plot to remove Kim Jong Un.
Nikkei reports that Hu Jintao, China’s president at the time, met with Kim Jong Un’s uncle, who floated the idea of replacing him with his half-brother, a politically unmotivated gambler.
But because of a recent scandal involving the death of the son of one of Hu’s advisers, the Chinese leader did not immediately act.
According to the report, a top adviser to Jiang Zemin, Hu’s predecessor and rival, caught wind of the plot and informed Kim Jong Un, who in 2013 had his uncle executed and purged several officials with ties to China.
Kim Jong Nam’s death this year, after North Korea had severed most meaningful ties with Beijing, foiled any possibility of such a coup. Two women have been charged with murder, and South Korean officials have accused North Korea of orchestrating the killing.
The Kim dynasty has ruled North Korea for more than half a century – only a decapitation of the country’s leadership could change that. Kim Jong Nam offered a chance, however slim, for a bloodless revolution in Pyongyang.
But now China – and the world – is stuck with Kim Jong Un, a 33-year-old leader who has shown hostility and cunning in isolating North Korea.