Days before he was killed by a toxic nerve agent, Kim Jong Nam, the brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, met with a Korean-American who Malaysian officials suspected was a US intelligence agent, The Asahi Shimbun reported.
Kim arrived in Malaysia, where he later died, on the same day as “a middle-aged Korea-American based in Bangkok,” the Asian news outlet reported. Two women accused of killing Kim have said they thought they were pranking him for a reality-TV show.
According to the report, the two met on February 9, and Kim’s computer showed a record of a thumb drive being inserted, which some have speculated was used to offload vital information to the suspected US agent. The report includes a photo that purports to show the two meeting, though the suspected agent’s face is cropped out.
Four days later, Kim was dead.
While reports about Kim’s life say he was a gambler with no ambitions to rule North Korea, he would make sense as someone whom the US — and even China — would want to groom and leverage to possibly remove Kim Jong Un from power.
At 33 years old, Kim Jong Un could lead North Korea for another three to five decades. While his leadership makes obvious its hostility to the US, he is also no fan of China.
Unlike his predecessors, Kim has never visited Beijing nor had Chinese President Xi Jinping visit Pyongyang. Kim also has had top officials with ties to China brutally assassinated with packs of dogs or anti-aircraft guns, according to reports.
As a result, China has little influence in North Korea today. Besides their trade relationship, the Chinese have few channels through which they could effect change in the Hermit Kingdom.
Through Kim’s reported violent purges of top officials, he has insulated himself from any outside influence and is on a direct course to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could eventually land a nuclear warhead on Washington, DC. Experts have told Business Insider that this weapon could start testing in as little as a few months.
Despite its concerted effort, the US has made little progress in removing or reasoning with Kim. The Kim dynasty has for decades ruled North Korea, which is still technically under the rule of Kim Il Sung, its “forever leader.”
Forcefully decapitating the Kim regime could lead to an exceptionally violent fight between the US and North Korea in which 25 million North Koreans may be loyal enough to fight against what they see as US imperialism.
One possible silver bullet in a seemingly impossible solution would be to push another Kim, Kim Jong Nam, as the true leader of North Korea.
Chinese diplomats, through their limited contacts in North Korea, could have persuaded generals and senior officials to back Kim Jong Nam over Kim Jong Un to initiate a coup. For China, that would have installed a favorable regime in North Korea without risking large numbers of refugees pouring into its borders or a US-aligned democratic power.
For the US, it would have benefitted from the removal of the most dangerous man in the Pacific.
Whether or not he was interested in leading North Korea, Kim Jong Nam could have been a powerful point of leverage for the US and China to try to reel in a dangerous regime. If Kim did meet with a US agent, that very well could have been a tipping point for the North, which South Korea has accused of orchestrating the killing.