After Kim Jong Nam’s sensational assassination in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Monday by a woman wearing a shirt with “LOL” written across the front, Kim’s family has been placed under Chinese protection in Macau.
An investigation is still ongoing into the sensational murder of the estranged half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un; however, the family members of Kim Jong Nam are obviously taking no chances, believing that they could be next on the hit list. They have disappeared from their homes and have been placed under the protection of police in Macau, sources confirmed to the South China Morning Post earlier today.
Following his fall from grace from being the likely successor to his father as the “supreme leader” of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim moved to Macau in the early 2000s. Neighbors and friends there say that he has mostly kept a low profile in the city, while also travelling abroad frequently.
His second wife, Lee Hye-Kyong, their son Kim Han-sol, 21, and daughter Kim Sol-hui, 18, have all resided in the former Portuguese colony for some time. The two children reportedly lived a “very normal life” going to international schools in the city. Meanwhile, Kim’s first wife and son live in Beijing.
In Macau, Kim seemed to enjoy a leisurely life of saunas and slot machines. A jovial playboy who liked to frequent casinos, he was reportedly a lover of French and Portuguese wines and enjoyed gourmet food. While he was talkative around friends, he kept his distance from strangers and neighbors.
“He already lived there when I moved to that house. At first, I did not know who he was,” a man who had been Kim’s neighbor for three years said. “I only realized it when I saw some news in the newspaper.”
“He used to wear sunglasses. He would leave home and enter his car and vice versa … always had expensive cars,” the source added.
Though, Kim lived a relaxing life in Macau, he always understand that at any moment his time could come. “He knew his life was at risk… and he was aware his brother was after him,” said one friend who had known Kim for a decade.
Friends say that Kim’s family had always felt safe in Macau — where they were under the assumed protection of Beijing — but following his assassination they have become understandably wary. With his half-brother dead, observers believe that Kim Jong-un could now see Han Sol as a potentially serious threat to his regime. The 21-year-old recently graduated from France’s prestigious Sciences-Po university and has been admitted into Oxford University for graduate school.
On Wednesday, South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo visited the family’s two properties in Macau, but there was apparently nobody home, driving rumors that the family had been relocated to Beijing by China’s Ministry of State Security.
Since the assassination, China has remained characteristically silent on the issue, only admitting that it has “noticed relevant media reports and is closely following developments.”
If Kim Jong Nam was in fact killed by his half-brother, then observers believe that the assassination comes as an affront to China and a major blow to its policy goals in North Korea.
It is assumed that while living in Macau, Kim was under Chinese protection. Experts have speculated that Beijing was keeping him ready as the next potential ruler of North Korea should Kim Jong-un’s regime suddenly collapse. Unlike his half-brother, Kim Jong Nam reportedly embraced the belief that the hermit kingdom needs to open itself up to the world and embrace economic reform under the guiding hand of China.
“China’s inner circle of government is highly nervous about this,” Wang Weimin, a professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Washington Post.
“Kim Jong Nam’s assassination makes China more aware of how unpredictable and cruel the current North Korean regime is, as well as Kim Jong Un’s willingness to abandon China and sell it for his own benefit at any second.”
The assassination comes at an extremely inconvenient time for China, directly following on the heels of more North Korean missile tests on Sunday that once again raised alarm around the world, causing further headaches for China who as North Korea’s chief ally has been charged with reigning in the nuclear-obsessed state. New US President Donald Trump has said that China has “absolute control” over North Korea.
Therefore, Zhao Tong, a foreign affairs expert at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center in Beijing, believes that the death of Kim Jong Nam could further harm China’s credibility at a critical time — with the US planning to deploy its THAAD missile system in South Korea later this year.
“If ordered by North Korea, the assassination sends a message that Kim Jong Un will protect his regime at any cost,” Zhao told the Financial Times. “It will be harder for China to convince the international community that North Korea can evolve peacefully into a modern society.”
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