The murder of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at an airport in Malaysia is an indication that the dictator is becoming increasingly tyrannical.
Kim Jong Nam, who was once considered a possible successor to his father and former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, was allegedly poisoned. According to local news reports, multiple individuals including at least one woman carried out the crime, and there is growing speculation that the crime was committed by North Korean spies.
Kim Jong Nam was caught attempting to illegally enter Japan at Narita International Airport in 2001 using a forged passport. From that point he was no longer viewed as a possible successor to his father and was alienated from the government. He was frequently spotted traveling in China and Southeast Asian countries thereafter.
South Korea's intelligence agency reported to the National Assembly that an order to assassinate Kim Jong Nam had been issued in North Korea since the early stages of the Kim Jong Un regime, even though Kim Jong Nam did not pose a threat to his younger half-brother's position as North Korea's leader.
If Kim Jong Un did order that Kim Jong Nam be killed, it was likely because his half-brother was an annoyance to the dictator. Kim Jong Nam had at one point criticized the dynastic succession of power in his home country.
Kim Jong Un seized power five years ago following the death of his father. He has since purged high-ranking officials in his government and the military one after another because of his distrustful nature.
Kim Jong Il is believed to have named seven "guardians," who would support his young successor, while he was alive. The seven accompanied a hearse carrying Kim Jong Il's coffin with Kim Jong Un at the deceased dictator's funeral, but only two of them remain in high-ranking positions.
Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong Un's uncle and one North Korea's top-ranking civilian officials, was executed three years ago over allegations that he attempted to overthrow the country. Ri Yong Ho, who was chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army, was purged about six months after Kim Jong Un took power.
There has been a whirlwind of promotions and demotions among military officers, in an attempt by Kim Jong Un to display his power.
But the fact that the latest incident took place overseas is highly problematic. If the crime was committed by a North Korean state organization, it would mean that North Korea violated Malaysia's sovereignty.
North Korea launched a terrorist bombing in Burma (now called Myanmar), in 1983 in a bid to kill then South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan, who was visiting the country. North Korean agents also repeatedly abducted Japanese nationals. The fundamental nature of North Korea, which believes that the ends justify the means, appears to have remained unchanged.
The Kim Jong Un regime has been growing more autocratic since last year's party convention. It has repeated nuclear tests and continued to develop ballistic missiles. The country launched a ballistic missile toward the Sea of Japan immediately after the first summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump. And there are growing fears that North Korea will respond provocatively to joint military drills by the United States and South Korea in March.
The Japanese government must keep a close eye on North Korea's moves and be on full alert against further provocation.