IT’S been quite the rollercoaster ride of diplomacy since Kim Jong Nam was killed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (klia2) on Feb 13.
Malaysia has been plunged into an ever evolving diplomatic nightmare at the hands of Kim Jong-un, a maniacal dictator with zero respect for rule of law or cross-border relations.
The murder of the North Korean leader’s half-brother on Malaysian soil would have been cause enough to spark international tensions severe enough to require a seasoned diplomat to navigate without incident. But the reaction that has come from North Korea since the death has only stoked the flames and fed into the theory that the isolationist regime is behind the assassination.
Both the diplomats and the state media of North Korea have been throwing loaded accusations at the Southeast Asian nation that are ill-considered and highly controversial in nature.
North Korean ambassador Kang Chol has taken a bombastic and combative approach in his handling of the situation, stating that his country “cannot trust” Malaysia’s handling of the probe, and also accusing the country of “colluding with outside forces” – a veiled reference to bitter rival South Korea.
He has also claimed that North Korea will not accept the results of the Malaysian-conducted autopsy as it was done without the supervision of a North Korean official, and has claimed that the investigation that is being carried out by Malaysian police could not be trusted as it was “politically motivated.”
State-controlled news networks have also been running damning reports of Malaysia and their handling of the incident, with KCNA news agency accusing the country of having a “sinister purpose”. They have even gone so far as to claim that Malaysia may be responsible for the death.
In short, North Korea is lashing out like a petulant child and accusing Malaysia of some truly shady dealings that could prove to have consequences in the eyes of the international community.
The Kim regime has displayed a disturbing lack of respect for the laws of other states, and contempt for the relatively friendly bilateral ties enjoyed between the two nations. Not to mention a blatant disregard for the fundamental value of human life and international rule of law.
Malaysia is the poor unsuspecting victim in this whole incident.
The country never asked for this attention or responsibility and yet the actions of North Korea have landed them in a international nightmare. And the diplomatic meltdown seems to be intensifying by the day.
But, despite this unwanted position in which they find themselves, Malaysia has handled itself in an exemplary fashion.
Malaysia deserves public, law enforcement and diplomatic praise and support, not just for standing up to hours of abuse by the Pyongyang embassy’s men but for sticking to its guns and maintaining its resolve.
Malaysia has laid out clearly the procedures it follows, including full autopsies and eventual release of the body to the family, after DNA confirmation, and has not wavered in the face of North Korea’s lofty demands.
It has done the only thing it could do in this delicate and contentious situation and it has been met with nothing but petulant scorn from a regime that has become an anvil around the country’s neck in terms of international diplomacy.
The so-called ‘special relationship’ between the two has soured under mounting scrutiny and with little returns for Malaysia. In recent years, far from being on an upward trajectory, ties between the two have been growing increasingly complicated due to North Korea’s behaviour.
For Malaysia, the challenge from a foreign policy perspective has been how to balance maintaining good ties with Pyongyang with other broader diplomatic considerations. But Pyongyang’s recent battery of missile tests and the resulting international scrutiny has complicated the already tricky balance the Southeast Asian state has had to walk.
The economic benefits are also barely substantial enough to justify Malaysia’s continued interest in the state. On the Malaysian side, bilateral trade is negligible, amounting to just RM23 million (US$5.2 million) out of the country’s total external trade of RM1.5 trillion (US$3.4 billion).
The pinch of any tail-off in trade would be felt more keenly in North Korea, especially when combined with the much harder blow of China’s snap decision to halt coal imports from the country last week.
In the face of this chill in relations coming from Pyongyang, it’s time Malaysia cut ties with a state that not only no longer serves them, but actually stands to harm them on the world stage. And it’s time Malaysia, along with her allies, considers further options against this nation that refuses to adopt even an ounce of respect for the rule of law.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent