Who is Kim Han-sol?

ké radar

He looks like an ordinary young man, dressed in a nondescript black pullover. He is calm and composed while talking. He even takes a moment to thank people.

This 40-second videoclip, uploaded to Youtube on Mar. 7, is making waves in South Korea and around the world. The young man is Kim Han-sol, grandson of late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, nephew of current ruler Kim Jong-un, and son of recently assassinated Kim Jong-nam.

What the 21-year-old Kim claims in the video, though brief, would jolt any listener. “My father has been killed a few days ago,” he says. “I am currently with my mother and my sister. And we are very grateful to […].”

Kim is talking about the recent assassination of Kim Jong-nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, allegedly on Pyongyang’s orders. North Korea denies responsibility for the murder, but is now embroiled in an intensifying diplomatic row with Malaysia over the incident.

The authenticity of the video has not been confirmed, but a spokesperson for the National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s main spy agency, told Korea Exposé, “The man is indeed Kim Han-sol.” South Korea’s Unification Ministry has not confirmed the identity of the man in the video. 

Kim first became an object of fascination when in 2012 former UN Under-Secretary General Elisabeth Rehn interviewed him in Bosnia, where he was studying, for a Finnish TV station. Sporting ear studs, styled hair and a black suit, he spoke articulately about his wish for national unification and awkwardness in befriending South Koreans.

High school photos of Kim Han-sol emerged in 2011. He gained fame in South Korea for his dyed hair and apparently more liberal outlook. (Source: United World College in Mostar, Bosnia)

Kim later went on to attend Sciences Po in France. Recently, though, he was believed to be living with his immediate family in Macau, to which his father was returning from Kuala Lumpur, before dying from exposure to lethal nerve agent VX.

It’s unclear what the video, watermarked with the symbol of an organization called Cheollima Civil Defense, is meant to achieve. A separate, unverified video allegedly shows screenshots of the organization’s website, which claims Cheollima has extracted and is protecting Kim Jong-nam’s family, including Han-sol.

This might not be the last we hear of Kim Han-sol. Some commentators speculate that Pyongyang wanted Kim Jong-nam dead because China planned to replace the current leader with him. Now, with his father gone, some believe that Kim Han-sol, who belongs to the “Baekdu hyeoltong” — North Korea’s ruling family bloodline — may be a contender for the throne.

 

Cover Image: Kim Han-sol in a 2012 interview with former UN Under-Secretary General Elisabeth Rehn. (Source: YouTube)

Se-Woong Koo wrote this radar report.

Se-Woong Koo earned his Ph.D. from Stanford University and taught Korean studies at Stanford, Yale, and Ewha Women's University. He has written for The New York Times, Foreign Policy, and Al Jazeera among other publications.