Japanese experts were divided over why a man claiming to be Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of Pyongyang leader Kim Jong Il, tried to enter Japan under an alias with a forged passport.
The man was deported to China on Friday after being detained by immigration authorities since his arrival Tuesday at Narita airport in Chiba Prefecture.
Yasuhiko Yoshida, a professor at the Osaka University of Economics and Law, said that if the man turned out to be Kim Jong Nam, he simply “wanted to come to Japan covertly” for personal reasons.
“If his father and aides had known about his trip, (they would not have allowed him to visit Japan) because normalization talks between Japan and North Korea have been suspended and bilateral relations have been aggravated,” Yoshida told Kyodo News.
The North is trying to win the trust of neighboring countries as a member of the international community and rebuild its economy through aid, he said.
Because of this, the professor said, “I can’t imagine that the state or the father approved of such a stupid thing.”
Jin Takase, a Japanese journalist specializing in North Korean affairs, said he was “stunned” to hear the news, calling Kim Jong Nam very bold.
Takase said he believes that if the man is Kim Jong Nam, he came to Japan for a holiday, not as part of a political conspiracy.
His father is said to have tried to please the son, who led an isolated boyhood in North Korea, by having him receive education in Geneva and allowing him to travel to Moscow, and his latest trip to Japan may have been part of this effort, Takase said.
But Ryo Hagiwara, a nonfiction writer and expert on North Korean affairs, said that if the man is Kim’s son, his visit could have been a defection attempt spurred by a power struggle in Pyongyang.
Hagiwara said the younger brother, Kim Jong Chol, is said to be a strong candidate to succeed his father.
“I hear that the struggle for succession is very severe, and Kim Jong Chol is very powerful and Kim Jong Nam is scared,” Hagiwara said.
Hagiwara noted that Kim Jong Il will celebrate his 60th birthday next year and may have made some kind of succession gesture at his 59th birthday in February.
There is also speculation that the visit may have been aimed at learning about Japan’s information technology industry.
According to past reports by South Korean newspapers, Kim Jong Nam became head of a North Korean government IT panel in 1998.
North Korea is now promoting IT sectors as state policy and Kim Jong Il is reported to be enthusiastically learning computer skills.
The Hong Kong monthly magazine Guang Jiao Jing (Wide Angle) recently reported that Kim Jong Nam frequently visits Japan to study the Japanese language as well as computers.
Whatever the motive behind the visit, it remains a mystery why the man took the risk of traveling under a forged Dominican Republic passport.
The visit comes at an embarrassing time for his father, who was meeting with a European Union delegation for high-profile talks in Pyongyang. Experts say the trip may have been kept secret even from Kim Jong Il.
It is also unknown how the man obtained the forged passport. North Korea does not have diplomatic relations with the Dominican Republic.
Experts say North Korean agents frequently visit Japan on fake foreign passports, but it is quite rare for a senior government or Korean Workers’ Party official to do so.
Such people, if they visit Japan, come as members of some North Korean delegation, using North Korean passports but traveling under fake names, which Japanese immigration officials often have difficulty detecting.
North Korean watchers are also wondering why the man traveled to Japan via Singapore, instead of Beijing, to which there are direct flights from North Korea. They say he may have gone to Singapore on business.
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