Malaysia puts justice first and continues to stand up to North Korea

Putting the hunt for justice first, Malaysia brushed aside North Korean criticism of their handling of the assassination of Kim Jong-nam. It is the latest example of Malaysia successfully dealing with North Korean demands and threats.

By John Pennington

The murder of Kim Jong-nam threatens to drive a wedge between Malaysia and North Korea. The half-brother of Kim Jong-un died following an attack at Kuala Lumpur airport where he was accosted by two women and smothered with nerve agent.

Relations between Malaysia and North Korea are well established and cordial. Both have embassies in their counterpart’s capital cities and Malaysians are the only foreign citizens allowed to enter North Korea without a visa.

The Malaysian administration is incredibly bureaucratic, with “red tape and graft” fundamental. They have, unsurprisingly, dealt with Jong-nam’s assassination on their soil by adhering to protocol and are ignoring North Korea’s threats to appeal to the International Court of Justice.

Malaysia are applying the law, regardless of whether North Korea like it or not

Malaysian authorities immediately conducted an autopsy. North Korea tried to stop it before accusing Malaysia of colluding with their enemies.

Ignoring the threats, Malaysian officials have continued the hunt to bring the perpetrators of Jong-nam’s death to justice. While North Korea claim they have nothing to do with the crime, Malaysian officials are adamant that the two women – one Indonesian, one Vietnamese – who attacked Jong-nam were trained by North Koreans.

They are seeking to question senior North Korean embassy official Hyon Kwang Song along with three others and they refuse to be put off by North Korean allegations that the responsibility lies with the Malaysian government. The international community supports them; officials from both South Korea and the US also believe North Korean agents were behind the assassination.

Malaysian officials have called on Interpol and China for help

Malaysia asked Interpol to put out an alert for the four suspects, firmly pointing the finger at North Korea and by association Kim Jong-un himself. North Korea have refused to confirm the identity of the murdered individual, who carried a passport naming him as Kim Chol. Malaysia have approached China for assistance in positively identifying the body and reaching his next of kin.

“While the North Korean embassy in Malaysia is yet to assist Malaysia to contact the Kim Chol’s next of kin, Malaysia police have no other option but to go through the proper channel to request that the China government assists in the seeking of Kim Chol’s next of kin,” a senior security source told The Daily Telegraph.

The incident puts ties between the two countries in a new light

The furious war of words after the assassination is a likely precursor to a cooling of relations between Malaysia and North Korea.

A statement from ambassador Kang Chol accused Malaysia of “colluding with hostile forces towards us who are desperate to harm us of malice,” claims which the Malaysian government rejected as “baseless” as it recalled its own ambassador.

The two countries first established bilateral ties in 1973 and they were further strengthened at the start of the 21st century. Trade between the two countries amounted to RM23 million (US$5.2 million) in 2015, around 300 North Koreans work in Malaysia and there are cultural exchanges in place.

Right now, that counts for little as by standing up to North Korea, Malaysia are making it clear that their relationship with Pyongyang will not obstruct their pursuit of justice. Prime Minister Najib Razak stated that Malaysia does not, “want to do something that would paint North Koreans in a bad light…but we will be objective and we expect them to understand that we apply the rule of law in Malaysia.”

History shows that Malaysia is not afraid to take on North Korea

Malaysia’s links with North Korea leave them with a delicate balancing act as they also try to maintain relations with the likes of Japan, South Korea and the US. Accordingly, they have openly condemned North Korean missile tests, backed US-led initiatives to stop the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction and supported UN sanctions against North Korea.

In 2011, Malaysia and North Korea opened an air route between their countries. This no longer operates. Following United Nations (UN) Security Council sanctions on North Korea, Malaysia banned Air Koryo – North Korea’s state airline – from access to its territory.

The US led the campaign to apply tough sanctions after North Korea’s nuclear tests in January 2016. Several countries then banned North Korean commercial jets, and Malaysia followed suit in January this year.

North Korea needs links with Malaysia more than the other way around

North Korea have few allies. They are now damaging one of their only diplomatic, economic and cultural relationships. As a North Korean delegation headed to Malaysia in the wake of Jong-nam’s assassination, spokesman Ri Tong-il announced, “Development of friendly relations between North Korea and the Malaysian Government will also be discussed.”

It may already be too late. Malaysia have recently strengthened links with China, maintain friendly relations with the US and their relationship with North Korea was already steadily deteriorating due to recent events – including the missile tests – before the assassination took place.

In any case, it is not, and has never been, a particularly special relationship. Malaysia have always been free and more than willing to stand up to North Korea. That is to their credit and there is plenty to learn from the way in which they successfully handle North Korea by doing the right thing.