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Diplomatic crisis: a tough stand turning soft

  • Malaysia has embroiled itself in the battle of the giants and due to its limited resources, it can only protect its own interests.

By Lim Sue Goan
Sin Chew Daily

The diplomatic crisis between Malaysia and North Korea are unlikely to end soon. The tension may drag on for months and even longer.

Firstly, North Korea bans nine staff of the Malaysian embassy in North Korea and their family members from leaving the country, effectively treating them as hostages. The government has to rescue them through negotiations.

Negotiation is a draining task. The main reason for North Korea to "hold" Malaysians is to claim Kim Jong-nam's body in order to destroy the evidence of his death from VX nerve agent.

On the other hand, Malaysia insists on complying with international laws and regulations. It would have to also consider the safety of nine Malaysians still in Pyongyang. North Korea Leader Kim Jong-un may resort to other tactics too. Malaysia may seek China's help in mediation if the negotiation hits a snag. Kim Jong-un is not an easy person to deal with.

Taking into consideration the Malaysians' safety, the government has since adjusted its tough stand against North Korea whereby it had cancelled visa–free entry for North Koreans into Malaysian, the deportation of the only North Korean suspect Ri Jong-chol, the expulsion of North Korean Ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol and at one time the North Korean Embassy in Malaysia was sealed off. After the "hostage crisis" surfaced, the government then began to spare the rats in order to save the dishes.

Secondly, the authorities also require time to complete its investigation and prosecution of Kim Jong-nam's murder. The police have charged two foreign women but two other North Korean suspects -- Hyon Kwang-song, second secretary at the North Korean embassy and Kim Uk-il, an Air Koryo staff, are believed to be still inside the North Korea embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Unless Malaysia and North Korea sever diplomatic ties or shut down the embassy, the police are unable to carry out arrests in the embassy.

Content of the negotiations may include the whereabouts of North Korean suspects. Pyongyang would not let its people to end up with the Malaysian police. There may be some obstacles there.

Thirdly, how to handle Kim Jong-nam's body? His son Kim Han-sol has "appeared" on YouTube. Apparently his mother and younger sister were worried for their safety and did not dare to be in Kuala Lumpur. They sought help from secret group Cheollima Civil Defence to hide.

Even if the authorities secured the DNA to confirm that the deceased was indeed Kim Jong-nam, who is claiming the body? The murder, which caught international attention, involved application of banned chemical weapon. The remains would have to be handed over to international agency for examination as ground for United Nations to impose further sanctions on Pyongyang.

Malaysia has stated that once investigations and other legal procedures have been completed, it would share relevant evidence with the international authorities. This would nevertheless take time.

Reflecting the incident, Kim Jong-un's decision of assassinating his half-brother at this time is not an impromptu move but after thoughtful consideration. China needs the North Korea communism to counter military threats from the United States, South Korea and Japan. Making the move now shows he is not fearful of offending Beijing.

Despite the fact that China is keen to back Kim Jong-nam, who is more obedient, to replace Kim Jong-un, China would not fall out with Kim Jong-un following Jong-nam's death. The interest of a nation would be more important here.

Kim Jong-un is fully aware of the conflicts among China, South Korea and Japan. It fired four missiles at its base near the border with China, and landed in the Sea of Japan about 1,000km away. South Korea was in shock and immediately deployed an anti-missile defence system called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) capable of detecting half of China. This has threatened the security of China and hence it needs Pyongyang as an ally.

Kim Jong-un's continuous move to launch missiles was meant to provoke clashes among China, Japan and South Korea, such that he stands a chance of evading the blame of murdering his brother.

The ban imposed by the Chinese government against South Korea has also prompted Chinese people to boycott Lotte. This would inadvertently harm the China-South Korea economy.

China-South Korea ties are at a low point, and Kim Jong-un couldn't be happier.

Tension on the Korean Peninsula may change with political developments. For instance, South Korean president Park Geun-hye was removed and this is followed by an election in the country. THAAD and ban against South Korea would be issues in the election, while China's strong nationalism would aggravate Japan's anti-China sentiment, giving rise to its extreme right wings. The crazy yet cunning Kim Jong-un would be able to take advantage in this complicated environment.

Malaysia has embroiled itself in the battle of the giants and it has to be beware of thuggish nation resorting to dirty tactics. Due to its limited resources, it can only protect its own interests. The softening of its tough stand is reasonable.


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