February 28, 2017
By Dave Avran
Many Malaysians love K-Pop music and Korean TV drama serials, but the recent murder of Kim Jong Nam at KLIA2 exceeded any script the Koreans could have come up with and has resulted in news coverage of the death and subsequent investigation by Malaysian authorities ad nauseum.
Therefore this article will look at the diplomatic maneuvers being strategized and carried out by both countries after the assassination. Malaysia established diplomatic relations with North Korea on June 30, 1973, and has since enjoyed good bilateral ties with the otherwise internationally shunned country.
The North Korean embassy was set up in Kuala Lumpur in 2003 as was the Malaysian embassy in Pyongyang. Relations between both countries were good and in 2009, Malaysia became the first country in the world to be able to travel to North Korea without a visa. In 2013, Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s supreme leader received an honorary doctorate from Malaysia’s HELP University.
However things changed following the assassination of Kim Jong Nam when Malaysian authorities carried out an autopsy which resulted in opposition from North Korean and that began to strain ties between both countries.
North Korea immediately reacted that they will oppose any results of the findings, claiming that the autopsy was conducted on its citizen without their permission and said they will take this issue to the International Court of Justice.
They also accused Malaysia of colluding with their enemies, particularly South Korea.
In reality, North Korea stands to be the bigger loser should diplomatic ties cease between the two countries. North Korea has precious few countries that it has diplomatic relations with. They cannot afford to lose friends. In fact the North Korean embassy in Malaysia is only one of 24 they have worldwide.
Malaysia’s IGP Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar had said that two suspects in the assassination of Jong-nam are hiding out at the North Korean Embassy in Damansara Heights.
To date the embassy has denied this claim and refuses to present the suspects, one of whom is the embassy’s second secretary, for questioning.
Malaysia has a number of diplomatic options at its disposal which can be exercised against North Korea, including declaring North Korean ambassador Kang Chol a “persona non grata”, considering the incendiary remarks issued by Kang Chol.
This would mean his presence in Malaysia is not appreciated and would require him to leave the country within a stipulated time depending on how long the embassy requests or as required by our government.
While this move may appear harsh, this would not be tantamount to severing ties with North Korea. It is a diplomatic maneuver. First the North Korean ambassador was summoned to Wisma Putra and then our ambassador Mohamad Nizan Mohamad was recalled from Pyongyang.
Being recalled does not mean Malaysia is cutting ties. Nizan was brought back for consultation and he will return at the discretion of the government. In the event that diplomatic ties are cut, the ambassador and his staff are protected by their status as foreign representatives.
If ties are indeed cut, Malaysia will allow them to leave with all their staff and belongings. They cannot be touched unless North Korea waives their diplomatic status, which is highly unlikely.
Diplomatic immunity being waived is highly unlikely but not impossible, as when Malaysia waived the immunity of Muhammad Rizalman Ismail, who was accused of attempted rape in New Zealand.
To our credit, Malaysia behaved in a gentlemanly fashion and sent the accused for trial. That is how civilized countries should resolve diplomatic incidents, not through threats and false accusations.