Book shows regime’s darkest side

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Book shows regime’s darkest side

Former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il did not initially plan to pass on his authority to his third son, Kim Jong-un, according to a book containing accounts by experts with special knowledge of the country.

In the book, the author, former intelligence official Ra Jong-yil, depicts North Korea’s founding father Kim Il Sung as a cold-blooded dictator, who once ordered his confidants to kill his son, Jong-il, if he veered from the country’s official ideological line.

Ra, 75, previously served as the former deputy director of the North Korea bureau inside the National Intelligence Service as well as the national security adviser to the late President Kim Dae-jung.

His book, tentatively titled, “The Path Taken by Jang Song-thaek: A Rebellious Outsider,” is due to be released by the end of the month.

According to copies of its transcript obtained by the Monthly JoongAng, Kim Jong-il, who died in December 2011, told his aides that the power succession would end with him.

“The Kim family will merely be a symbol of the country’s legitimacy and identity and the subject of loyalty and fidelity by the people,” it says.

Ra did not provide further details for when and where Kim made those remarks, but claimed in the book that the late leader had told about 10 of his confidants that they would “share the burden of running the country. You are now responsible for coming up with a mechanism through which you will operate this country in a joint leadership system.”

The details in the book come from information the author obtained in interviews with approximately 40 experts on North Korea, who gained a deep insight into the reclusive state through their official and personal contacts with members of the regime.

All the sources cited in his book are anonymous.

Ra told the JoongAng that Kim Jong-il “must have had many concerns” regarding the direction of the country. “He must have figured it would be unrealistic to hand over power to his son, but also felt his hands were tied because of the lack of other options,” Ra noted.

“It seems that Kim felt he was increasingly out of time to make the right decision [regarding the leadership structure] and ended up [passing on power to his son] after he failed to find other alternatives.”

Ra added that his sources told him it was possible that the late Kim had proposed adopting a leadership system akin to the Imperial House of Japan.

But perhaps one of the most revealing chapters in the book deals with North Korean founder Kim Il Sung and his heavy-handed instruction to his 10 most trusted subordinates.

In an undated meeting, Kim provided his confidants with pistols, which were partially silver-plated, and demanded they use them without hesitation if his successor, Jong-il, veered from the official state doctrine - the self-reliance ideology, known as Juche - or tried to revise the system.

On the fate of the current ruler’s late uncle, Jang Song-thaek, whom Kim Jong-un sentenced to death in December 2013, Ra included Jang’s conversation with Hwang Jang-yop, the architect behind North Korea’s Juche ideology and the highest-ranking official to date to defect to the South.

Worried at the time that North Korea’s economy would crumble if nothing changed, Hwang was said to have asked Jang: “What should we do now?”

But Jang was said to have dismissed his concerns, denying that such a thing could ever happen.

“Do you have any plans?” Hwang asks again.

“The economy has already been crumbled,” Jang replies. “How can it crumble further again?”

Hwang defected to the South in 1997, and 26 years later, Jang was executed at the hands of his young nephew.

BY PARK SUNG-HYUN, KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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