North Korean Assassination Sends Waves Around the World

North Korean Assassination Sends Waves Around the World
Photo credit: AP/ 達志影像

What you need to know

What does the death of Kim Jong-un’s big brother mean to North Korea, China and the US?

Kim Jong-nam, estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, on Feb. 13 was killed by two alleged female North Korean agents at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia. Malaysian police have arrested three suspects who may have helped carry out the suspected assassination. International media outlets and the South Korea spy agency reported that Kim Jong-un is responsible for staging the attack.

After falling out of favor with his father, Kim Jong-nam lived in exile since 2003. He is the eldest son of former leader Kim Jong-il and criticized North Korea’s current political system during his exile.

South Korea's, Yonhap News Agency reported that the killing is the latest in a series of purges Kim Jong-un has carried out since taking power five years ago. A South Korean think tank, the Institute for National Security Strategy, released a report saying that Kim had ordered the execution of 340 people, mostly senior officers and relatives of Kim, since 2011.

In this photo taken Friday, June 4, 2010, Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, waves after his first-ever interview with South Korean media in Macau. (AP Photo/JoongAng Sunday via JoongAng Ilbo, Shin In-seop)

The assassination of Kim Jong-nam raises questions over the stability of Kim Jong-un’s grip on power. Malaysia’s The Star Online quoted U.S. experts as saying Mark Tokola, a former senior diplomat and currently vice president of the Korea Economic Institute of America, believes that the North Korean leader has been eliminating those perceived as threats to him and that it has been "a continuing sense of paranoia on the part of Kim Jong-un.”

Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the Sejong Institute, another South Korean think tank, believes that the assassination will force the U.S. to relist North Korea on its terrorism-sponsoring countries, The New York Times reports. The decision could further alienate North Korea from the international community.

“By assassinating Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un may have removed a thorn in the side, but it will further isolate his country,” Cheong told the New York Times. “It is also expected to worsen his country’s relations with China, which has been protecting his brother.”

North Korea was taken off the U.S. list of states sponsors of terrorism in 2007 as part of a denuclearization deal, The Washington Post reports. U.S. analysts believe that North Korea should now be re-listed to impose more sanctions on North Korea.

Photo Credit: AP/達志影像
This May 4, 2001, file photo shows Kim Jong Nam, exiled half-brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, in Narita, Japan. Kim Jong Nam, 46, was assassinated Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, in a shopping concourse at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia, according to a Malaysian government official. (AP Photos/Shizuo Kambayashi, File)

Kim Jong-nam was reportedly under protection by China and lived in Macau. There was speculation that China was keeping Kim Jong-nam safe so that it could install him as leader in North Korea if relations turned sour between North Korea and China under Kim Jong Un's leadership, The Washington Post reports. Analysts said that the suspected assassination could be an attempt by Kim Jong-un to “land a blow against China.”

Officials in China also seem to be leaning toward the theory that Kim Jong-un ordered the killing. An editorial in the Chinese state-run Global Times said that Beijing would join the international condemnation if Malaysian authorities confirmed that Kim Jong-nam was assassinated. It also noted that the speculation of who’s behind the attack “remains sharply pointed at Pyongyong.”

Ties between China and North Korea have been strained as Beijing has expressed dismay over Pyongyang’s nuclear tests, the latest in last September, and missile launches. Kim Jong-nam’s death could make relations between China and North Korea more vulnerable, South China Morning Post reports. China has already deployed troops to the North Korean border in the days after Kim Jong- nam's death.

Editor: Edward White