Malaysia seeks to restore ties via reopening of Pyongyang embassy

Malaysia will remain firm in its claim over select areas in the disputed South China Sea, despite objection


MALAYSIA’S plan to reopen its embassy in Pyongyang signals the country’s commitment to mend ties with North Korea, three years after Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was assassinated in Kuala Lumpur (KL).

Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (picture) said the move, set for the first-quarter this year, would mark the recovery of Malaysia’s bilateral relations with North Korea.

The assassination resulted in a dramatic rift between the two countries that saw each stripping the other of visa-free entry privileges.

Malaysia wants to be “friendly with all countries”, Saifuddin said, adding that the reinstatement of the embassy would also motivate North Korea to conduct peace talks with the US.

“Sometimes, you need to motivate people to go to the table to talk,” he told reporters at Wisma Putra last Friday.

Malaysia believes sanctions imposed by the United Nations (UN) Security Council on North Korea should be lifted, the minister added.

Apart from Pyongyang, Malaysia’s diplomatic expansion for the year will also include the opening of a consulate-general in Turkey and the appointment of honorary consuls in Iraq, Libya and Yemen.

Kim Jong-nam died in February 2017 after a nerve agent was splashed in his face at the KL International Airport by two women who later claimed they thought they were part of a televised prank show.

North Korean ambassador Kang Chol accused Malaysia of collaborating with South Korea in investigating the assassination and blamed police for fabricating evidence.

Malaysia consequently declared the envoy as “persona non-grata” after he failed to apologise for his claims. In retaliation, North Korea did the same.

Effective March 6, 2017, Malaysia withdrew its visafree privilege for North Korean citizens.

Prior to the event, Malaysia was one of Pyongyang’s few trade partners after the country was isolated by the international community for its nuclear and missile programmes.

Diplomatic relations between North Korea and Malaysia were established on June 30, 1973.

Separately, Saifuddin said Malaysia will remain firm in its claim over select areas in the disputed South China Sea, despite China’s objection, which Malaysia had anticipated.

“China’s objection is something we had expected. This is normal. I’m not saying we are okay about it, but it is our claim and we will maintain that,” he said.

Malaysia submitted its claims to the remaining portions of its extended continental shelf at the northern sea area of dangerous ground in the South China Sea on Dec 12 last year.

In response, China protested against Malaysia’s filing to the UN and urged the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to not consider Malaysia’s submission, the South China Morning Post reported. Beijing accused Malaysia of infringing its sovereignty with the submission.

When asked if Malaysia is afraid of retaliation from China, Saifuddin said: “If we are fearful of that, we will not submit our claim.”