Can Malaysia risk ‘unfriending’ North Korea?
By Zan Azlee
IT’S funny how one of the main talking points to come from the Kim Jong Nam debacle for so many Malaysians (as I’ve garnered through anecdotal evidence and from local coffee shop talk), is that Malaysians do not need a visa to travel to North Korea, and vice versa.
And it is also funny so many people in Malaysia have chosen not to travel to North Korea, despite this fact.
It’s funny because it just proves Malaysia really has no vested interest in North Korea at all.
When it comes to the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of the country’s leader Kim Jong Un, the Malaysian authorities have no motivation to conspire with anyone.
Since the murder, the North Korean government has gone on and on accusing Malaysia of conspiring and colluding with external forces in trying to bring down the government (we have yet to hear anything from the Supreme Leader himself, though).
It took a while for the Malaysian government to properly respond to the North Koreans. Initially, Malaysia denied the accusations and continued to release information regarding the case in press conferences and statements.
Eventually, the Malaysian government realised it was hopeless and started making political and diplomatic moves instead.
Foreign Minister Anifah Aman held a press conference where he called North Korean ambassador Kang Chol “delusional” and was “spewing lies”.
Anifah continued Malaysia will not dignify North Korea by further responding to any of their claims and allegations.
Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi also ordered an assessment of the diplomatic ties between Malaysia and North Korea.
In preserving the dignity and self-respect of Malaysia, the government proceeded to take the appropriate actions. First was to demand the North Korean embassy provide access to the two people wanted for questioning, and eventually issuing an arrest warrant for one of them.
Then, Zahid, in his capacity as Home Minister, revoked the right for North Koreans to travel to Malaysia without having to apply for a visa (this will be gazetted and take effect today, March 6)
And even then, the North Korean government continued their accusations.
On Saturday, the Malaysian government also declared the North Korean ambassador “persona non grata” which means he is no longer a welcomed individual in the country and had been given 48 hours to leave.
Malaysia is making the right decisions in its responses to the North Koreans as the country stands to gain nothing from pandering to the interest of the isolated regime.
It is North Korea which stands to lose more if diplomatic ties between the two countries worsen.
Although trade exists between Malaysia and North Korea, it is too insignificant to do any damage to Malaysia if halted.
Latest data shows it was worth an estimated US$5 million in 2015, and that North Korea is hoping Malaysia could be its gateway to trade with Southeast Asia.
However, there will be no trade embargo imposed on Malaysian companies that would still want to continue doing business with North Korea, as declared by International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed.
The tourism industry also won’t suffer much. According to radio news reports, the number of North Koreans who travel to Malaysia is negligible. So there is no worry it will affect the tourism industry. Malaysians have also been advised not to travel to North Korea.
North Korea is one of the most isolated countries in the world and has far more enemies than friends.
Rationally speaking, it would be to their advantage to try to maintain warm diplomatic relations with Malaysia. And the fact is, many of their “friends” have no need for the “friendship”.
[This article was originally written for and published at AsianCorrespondent.com]
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