Relations between Malaysia and North Korea continue to tumble as a result of the investigation into the murder of Kim Jong Nam in a Malaysian airport on February 13th of this year. On Tuesday, North Korea announced that it would not permit Malaysian citizens to return to Malaysia from the reclusive state, prompting the Malaysian Prime Minister to convene an emergency meeting of his National Security Council.
Prime Minister Najib Razak accused North Korea of “effectively holding our citizens hostage” as a result of Malaysian authorities seeking North Korean citizens for questioning regarding the assassination of Jong Nam. There has been a great deal of speculation regarding the involvement of the North Korean government in the crime, with many going so far as to suggest that the assassination was, in fact, ordered directly by North Korea’s Supreme Leader, the victim’s half-brother, Kim Jong Un.
The United Nations has called on both countries to settle their differences through “established diplomatic practice,” on Tuesday – but the damage may already be done. Malaysia has traditionally been one of North Korea’s few international friends, but the attack at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and Malaysian law enforcement’s refusal to accept North Korea’s dismissive statements regarding the cause of Kim Jong Nam’s death has prompted the two nations to spar with one another in public statements, and now, with policies intended as political retribution.
According to Malaysian law enforcement, Kim Jong Nam was killed by two young women that smeared a nerve agent on his face known as VX. VX is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations and can be rather difficult to produce or procure – but not out of the reach of a state-funded laboratory in North Korea. Police have identified as many as eight North Korean citizens believed to have been involved in the plot, including at least two who continue to hide out in the North Korean embassy in Malaysia in order to avoid being taken into custody. Others are believed to have already found their way back to the safety of their home nation.
The two women charged with the murder are Vietnamese and Indonesian. They have claimed that they believed they were participating in a game show, but security footage shows them immediately fleeing to wash their hands after the attack, with one girl vomiting as a result, indicating that they were likely aware of their actions. Kim Jong Nam died approximately twenty minutes after their altercation, after seeking help from airport authorities.
North Korean officials announced that the death of Kim Jong Nam was likely the result of a heart attack, rather than any sort of toxin; a conclusion they arrived at without having access to the body.
As a result of the travel ban instituted by the North Koreans, Malaysia’s prime minister instructed his own law enforcement “to prevent all North Korean citizens in Malaysia from leaving the country until we are assured of the safety and security of all Malaysians in North Korea.”
He then took to social media to assuage the fears of any Malaysian citizens affected by North Korea’s ban. “I understand the feelings and concerns of the family and friends of Malaysians held in North Korea. We assure that we are doing everything we can to make sure they come back to the country safely.”
While both travel bans are likely to be short-lived, the political fallout of the aggressive interactions between these two Asian states will likely further seclude North Korea from global interaction, as Malaysia has historically been one of the few nations that were willing to work openly with the despotic regime. Malaysia even expelled the North Korean ambassador from their nation last week for publicly questioning the methods and impartiality of Malaysian law enforcement officials.
As for the North Koreans believed to be connected to the murder who are still hiding out in the North Korean embassy, Malaysia’s police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, claims that there is no plan, or need, to raid the North Korean embassy.
“We will wait for them to come out,” the police chief said. “We have got all the time.”
Image courtesy of the Associated Press