Kim Jong Il's eldest son has predicted that North Korea's regime will "not last long" under the rule of his half brother, a newspaper reported Tuesday.
Citing e-mails exchanged between Kim Jong Nam and a Japanese journalist, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper said that the dictator's son described the country's dynastic succession as "a joke to the outside world."
Kim Jong Nam also predicted that his half brother Kim Jong Un would be "just a nominal figure," adding: "The members of the power elite will be the ones in actual power."
Kim Jong Un was vaulted into the leadership role with the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December. He had made his public debut as anointed successor only 15 months earlier.
His half brother suggested that North Korea's new leader, who is believed to be aged 27, faced many challenges.
"Without reforms, North Korea will collapse, and when such changes take place, the regime will collapse," the newspaper quoted Kim Jong Nam as saying. "The Kim Jong Un regime will not last long."
Little is known about Kim Jong Un's background and experience, though North Koreans have been told he studied at Kim Il Sung Military University and was involved in military operations such as the November 2010 artillery attack on a South Korean island that killed four South Koreans.
Among Kim Jong Il's three sons, Kim Jong Un is seen as most like his father in manner and personality.
Kim Jong Nam is aged about 40 and is known for his playboy lifestyle and love of casinos. He is believed to have fallen out of favor with his father after being caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001 saying he wanted to visit Disney's Tokyo resort. Kim Jong Nam has lived in China in recent years.
"Because I was educated in the West, I was able to enjoy freedom from early age, and I still love being free," Kim Jong Nam reportedly told the Japanese journalist. "The reason I visit Macau so often is because it's the most free and liberal place near China, where my family lives."
According to Chosun Ilbo, Kim Jong Nam said his half brother had traveled to Japan in the past using a "fake Brazilian passport."
Chosun Ilbo said Yoji Komi, a former Seoul correspondent for Tokyo Shimbun newspaper, exchanged almost 100 emails with Kim Jong Nam between 2004 and December. They also spoke on at least two occasions.
Meanwhile, a senior North Korean party official dismissed concerns about Kim Jong Un's readiness to lead, saying he spent years working closely with his late father and helped him make key policy decisions on economic and military affairs.
In the first interview with foreign journalists by a high-level North Korean official since Kim Jong Il's Dec. 17 death, Politburo member and Kim family confidante Yang Hyong Sop told The Associated Press that North Koreans were in good hands with their young new leader. He emphasized an unbroken continuity from father to son that suggests a continuation of Kim Jong Il's key policies.
"We suffered the greatest loss in the history of our nation as a result of the sudden, unexpected and tragic loss of the great leader Kim Jong Il," he said in the interview Monday at Mansudae Assembly Hall, seat of the North Korean legislative body.
"But still, we are not worried a bit," he added, "because we know that we are being led by comrade Kim Jong Un, who is fully prepared to carry on the heritage created by the great Gen. Kim Jong Il."