Japan from the inside out

The North Korean remittance man

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, October 16, 2010

WELL-TO-DO English families in the 17th and 18th centuries with a surfeit of sons sometimes packed the youngest one off to live in the Colonies, particularly America, to seek his fortune. The family provided financial support by paying him a remittance, or an allowance. (This frequently applied to fourth sons—the first received the title and the property while the next two often pursued careers in the military or the Church.)

The term remittance man took on a different meaning in the Victorian era, as it came to refer to young men who besmirched the family name through their scandalous behavior. They were sent abroad and paid a remittance on the condition that they never return home. (Nowadays the lads just continue their education at graduate school.)

Kim Jong-nam goes to Tokyo

Kim Jong-il, the current head of the Kim Family Regime in North Korea, is following this hoary tradition, though he’s turned it on its head by sending his eldest son abroad and keeping the youngest at home to learn the family business. By some accounts, Pyeongyang remittance man Kim Jong-nam has been paid between $US 500,000 – 800,000 a year to live overseas after he was caught sneaking into Japan on a Dominican passport to visit Disneyland. Also reversed is the relationship between the geographical point of origin and the destination. English remittance men sent their sons from the Home Country to the Colonies. North Korea has no colonies, but it is the client state/vassal of China, so Kim II’s prodigal son established residences in Beijing and Macau.

The remittance man has been in the news recently after he criticized the plan that has his younger half-brother Kim Jong-un lined up to follow in Dear Leader’s footsteps. He is not in favor of dynastic succession, or at least when it doesn’t involve him. There are also reports the Heir Presumptive tried to knock off the dauphin because the latter is the Chinese favorite to serve as their puppet at the head of the North Korean government if the bottom ever falls out. Kim Jong-il is said to have asked Chinese Premier Hu Jintao for a guarantee of his son’s safety, which he received.

Less widely discussed, however, is this report on the 14th from the Chosun Ilbo headlined, Eldest Son ‘Told Kim Jong-il to Rein in Jong-un’. Here are the highlights:

* A Chinese “associate” of Kim Jong-nam said the latter told him he called on his father at Kim II’s Beijing hotel room when the North Korean leader visited that city in August.

* He took his father to task for condoning Kim Jong-un’s behavior. The story has it that KJU ordered the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan to distract attention from his support for a botched currency reform (for which at least one other North Korean official was reportedly executed).

* Kim Jong-nam also told his father that “he’d go his own way” unless Dad put his foot down and got Jong-un to mind his Ps and Qs. The unstated implication seems to be that unless KJU’s behavior improves, he might return to Pyeongyang and apply the North Korean equivalent of a brotherly Dutch Rub.

Most reports about Kim Jong-nam refer to him as a playboy with Chinese connections, but they don’t go into much detail. This Chosun Ilbo article provides more dish, however. KJN has one wife and one son in a Beijing suburb; a second wife, a second son, and a daughter in Macau (though he and the second wife are thought to be separated); and a mistress–a former stewardess for Air Koryo–also stashed in Macau.

Though this article doesn’t mention it, the close ties he’s developed with the next generation of Chinese officials have been forged through gambling soirées at Macau casinos.

The question of succession, however, may not yet be urgent, as yet another report from the Chosun Ilbo explains. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton recently visited North Korea, accompanied by one of his doctors, Roger Band. Dr. Band was tasked with eyeballing Kim Jong-il to form an educated guess about his health. As a result of the doctor’s observations, American officials have concluded he is “upright” and capable of holding reasonable discussions.

Few would have thought they’d ever wish Kim Jong-il a hearty Manse! (Banzai), but those sentiments are not out of place after reading this final Chosun Ilbo article presenting a prediction by Zeitgeist magazine editor Kim Young-hwan:

The chances of a smooth succession by Kim Jong-un are less than 10 percent.

This Kim puts the odds of a crisis following Kim II’s death at 60%-70%.

Isn’t this sort of intrigue by wealthy and dissolute despots one of the reasons the socialist/communist movements got traction in Europe to begin with?


Here’s a story on another type of remittance man at Joshua Stanton’s One Free Korea.

The underlying Chinese characters for Cheonan, the name of the sunken South Korean ship, are 天安. Those are the same characters used to write 天安門, or the Tiananmen of Tiananmen Square.

So much for Heavenly Peace in East Asia.

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2 Responses to “The North Korean remittance man”

  1. America and China have agreed to prop up this regime as it suits both.

    NK does not possess nukes, although it again suits to allow it to pretend, and cannot invade SK without massive desertion. It is a Potempkin country.

    The sons shell game maybe a clever way of ensuring that he will not be deposed internally…. and may not be as successful as he hopes.

    All fun and games, until the North is “pre-emptively” invaded.

    Now who would ever want a rerun of the Korean War? Depression politics is such a bust, or do I mean Buzz?!

  2. Roual Deetlefs said


    1 Samuel 3 : 11-14 … 11) And the LORD said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle.

    12) In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end.

    13) For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.

    14) And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever.

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