By KUIK CHENG KANG
Sin Chew Daily
No one would have foretold the assassination of North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un's half brother Jong-nam in Malaysia. What astonishes us is that this whole thing has been so dramatic as if we are watching a Korean drama.
From the expulsion of the two countries; ambassadors to banning citizens of each other's country from leaving, KL-Pyongyang diplomatic ties as well as the safety of Malaysian citizens still stranded in Pyongyang could be at stake if this whole thing is not handled properly.
PM Najib rushed back from Indonesia Tuesday evening to call an emergency national security council meeting. It is believed that China might have stepped in to diffuse the diplomatic crisis between the two friendly nations. Najib said yesterday that secret negotiations were still ongoing although he declined to reveal whether this was made possible with the help from Beijing.
To most people, North Korea is a mysterious state. I once flew into Pyongyang from Hohhot in Inner Mongolia in 2009 to have my fist taste of this reclusive hermit state.
Back then ordinary citizens were not allowed to use mobile phones, which were reserved for a handful of privileged individuals. Foreigners like me had to surrender or handphones to the airport's customs officer who kept my phone inside a transparent bag until I was about to leave the country. I was completely cut off from the outside world during those few days in Pyongyang.
We were also warned not to take any photograph along the road from the airport to hotel, although photographs were allowed inside the city and some sightseeing spots, including Panmunjom.
In addition to a tour guide, we were also escorted by a hanbok-clad young lady whom we guessed was a female operative sent in to watch over us.
Unlike in other countries, no free activities in Pyongyang are allowed. There were only three hotels catering to foreigners at that time. We were arranged to stay at Yanggakdo International Hotel. As it was total darkness walking out of the hotel, we could only stay inside our rooms and watch TV or visit the hotel casino. The other two hotels allowed to take in foreign guests were Koryo Hotel and Taedonggang Hotel.
I never anticipated such dramatic changes in Malaysia-North Korea relations eight years after my Pyongyang trip, and this has happened all because of the murder of a North Korean man called Kim Chol at klia2 on the morning of February 13.
Local media were only informed of the incident on the following evening through Yonhap News Agency, and that the man in question was Kim Jong-nam.
Over here at Sin Chew Daily, we double confirmed through various channels before publishing the news. This was absolutely necessary given the fact that we are living in a world infested with fake news and unverified rumors.
After confirmation by the police and health ministry that this man had died of VX poisoning, the two female suspects were immediately hauled to the court to face their charges. Pyongyang has pointed its finger at Seoul as the two female suspects have traveled to South Korea on several occasions during the past few years. However, police investigations showed that several North Koreans were involved in the assassination plan, including the embassy second secretary who was spotted near the crime scene when the killing took place. Moreover, Kim Jong-un indeed had plans to get rid of his half brother.
Soon after assuming power, Kim Jong-un couldn't wait longer to get rid of his uncle Jang Song-thaek. There were speculations Kim was worried his powerful uncle would threaten his position, and his exiled half brother Jong-nam was under the protection of Beijing authorities. He was worried Beijing would some day overthrow him and install his brother as the country's leader.
There have been a spate of climaxes in Kim Jong-nam's case since the very start. His assassination was more than just rivalry between two brothers, but entailed also the rivalry between major powers.
The sudden death of Kim Jong-nam has deeply frustrated Beijing.
Kim Jong-un has created one trouble after another since he took over, and no one could rule out the possibility that China might eventually unseat him in favor of his half brother when gets began to get out of hand.
Owing to its geographical proximity to China, North Korea has always acted as a strategic buffer zone for China in Northeast Asia. One thing Beijing is least willing to see is a pro-Washington immediate neighbor. Consequently, the security relations of both China and North Korea couldn't have been more close knit.
Kim's moves to test missiles and nuclear weapons have given Japan, South Korea and the United States some good excuse to strengthen their military ties. Despite the power opposition from Beijing, South Korea signed an agreement on the deployment of Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. Such a development will hurt the security interests of Beijing and complicate further the situation in Northeast Asia.
Kim Jong-un's rash decisions to launch missiles have put China in a very embarrassing position, and lent justification to Washington's intervention in Northeast Asian politics. If any of the four missiles were to fall on Japan or South Korea, a third world war could have been started.