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World View: Malaysia Expels North Korean Ambassador as Relations Deteriorate

This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • Malaysia expels North Korea’s ambassador Kang Chol
  • Malaysia accused of fronting North Korean weapons sales
  • Kim Han-sol, son of Kim Jong-nam, under guard to prevent North Korean assassination
  • New sanctions indicate China is running out of patience with Kim Jong-un

Malaysia expels North Korea’s ambassador Kang Chol

North Korean Ri Jong Chol, suspected in the death of Kim Jong-nam, was reluctantly released by Malaysian authorities for lack of evidence (Reuters)
North Korean Ri Jong Chol, suspected in the death of Kim Jong-nam, was reluctantly released by Malaysian authorities for lack of evidence (Reuters)

Malaysia has declared that Kang Chol, North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia, is persona non grata, and has ordered him to leave the country within 48 hours.

A month ago, no one would have expected relations between North Korea and Malaysia to deteriorate so rapidly. Malaysia has been one of the few countries of the world that have maintained good relations with North Korea, even to the extent of permitting North Koreans to visit Malaysia without a visa. But the assassination in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s child dictator Kim Jong-un, has led to a series of investigations, accusations, counter-accusations, threats and counter-threats that have pushed the two countries close to severing diplomatic relations completely.

Kim Jong-nam died in Kuala Lumpur airport after women used a handkerchief to apply poison to his face in the middle of the airport, and he died several minutes later from the poison on the way to the hospital. The autopsy revealed that the assassination was extremely sophisticated since the “poison” that was used was the nerve agent VX. VX is so deadly that it is classified as a weapon of mass destruction and banned by the United Nations. Touching even a drop of VX can kill, so applying VX to the victim required a great deal of skill on the part of the women. Although Malaysia has not explicitly accused North Korea of having ordered the assassination, it’s widely believed that North Korea was responsible.

As soon as the assassination occurred, North Korea’s ambassador Kang Chol began a series of extremely offensive accusations directed at the Malaysian government. He was on television almost every day, denying that the dead man was related to Kim Jong-un, demanding that the body be sent to the North Korean embassy immediately for cremation, accusing the Malaysians of conducting an unauthorized autopsy, saying that the investigation was untrustworthy, and accusing Malaysian authorities of “colluding with the hostile forces towards us who are desperate to harm us of malice,” referring to South Korea.

Malaysian officials found these accusations to be extremely offensive and demanded that Kang Chol apologize for them. He has failed to do so.

On Friday, Malaysia announced that it would cancel visa-free entry as of Monday.

On Saturday, Chol was summoned to Wisma Putra, Malaysia’s foreign ministry, but he failed to show up. The foreign ministry then sent a diplomatic note to Malaysia’s embassy:

1. Pursuant to my instructions, His Excellency Mr. Kang Chol, the Ambassador of the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. …

2. However, neither the Ambassador nor senior officials of the Embassy was in a position to be present at the Ministry.

3. For this reason, the Ministry has via a Diplomatic Note sent to the Embassy this evening, informing the DPRK government that His Excellency Mr. Kang Chol that the Malaysian government has declared him Persona Non Grata. He is expected to leave Malaysia within 48 hours from the scheduled time of the meeting, namely 6.00 p.m. 4 March 2017.

4. It can now be revealed that at 5.00 p.m., Tuesday, 28 February 2017, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs … met with the High Level Delegation from the DPRK…. During the meeting, the Malaysian government demanded a written apology from the DPRK for the accusations recently made against Malaysia by the DPRK Ambassador.

5. The DPRK delegation was informed that if no response is received by 10.00 p.m. that day, the Malaysian government would take measures that would best protect its interests.

6. Almost four days have passed since the deadline lapsed. No such apology has been made, neither has there been any indication that one is forthcoming. For this reason, the Ambassador has been declared Persona Non Grata. …

10. It should be made clear – Malaysia will react strongly against any insults made against it or any attempt to tarnish its reputation.

11. It should be recalled that the Ambassador had alleged that the conduct of the investigation into the death of a DPRK citizen on 13 February 2017 indicates that the Malaysian government had something to hide and that Malaysia has colluded with outside powers to defame his country.

Recent events, including the release of Mr. Ri Jong Chol … is proof that the investigation is conducted in an impartial, fair and transparent manner, as befits a country that practices the rule of law.

12. The expulsion of the DPRK Ambassador comes at the heels of the decision of the Malaysian government … that effective on Monday, 6 March 2017, citizens of the DPRK require visas to enter Malaysia. This is an indication of the government’s concern that Malaysia may have been used for illegal activities.

13. These measures are part of the process by the Malaysian government to review its relations with the DPRK.

The Star (Malaysia) and Free Malaysia Today and BBC and AFP

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Malaysia accused of fronting North Korean weapons sales

The statement quoted above contains the sentence: “This is an indication of the government’s concern that Malaysia may have been used for illegal activities.”

This sentence refers to a United Nations report to be released in a few days accusing Malaysia of having violated United Nations sanctions by permitting North Korea to sell weapons using an arms sales operation in Malaysia under a brand called Glocom. According to the report, Glocom is run by North Korea’s top intelligence agency and linked to two Malaysian companies, International Global System and International Golden Services, controlled by North Korean shareholders and director. The United Nations has asked the Malaysian government to freeze the assets of these companies.

Malaysia is denying having violated UN sanctions, and is apparently denying knowledge of Glocom’s arms sales and relation to North Korea, although that information has apparently been publicly available. At any rate, Malaysia is giving the Glocom accusation as a reason for ending visa-free travel from North Korea to Malaysia. Reuters and International Business Times and Foreign Policy

Kim Han-sol, son of Kim Jong-nam, under guard to prevent North Korean assassination

Kim Han-sol's girlfriend Sonia (L) studies at Oxford University
Kim Han-sol’s girlfriend Sonia (L) studies at Oxford University

Since the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, there has been international concern about his son, Kim Han-sol, who had apparently disappeared from sight. At one point, the Malaysian authorities said that they believed that he would come to Kuala Lumpur to identify his father’s body, but he never showed up.

Subsequently, there have been reports that he under Chinese protection in Macau. He has been advised not leave Macau because it is feared that he would also be assassinated.

Kim Han-sol is in the bloodline of North Korea’s founding leader Kim Il-sung. For that reason, Han-sol could serve as a legitimate leader of North Korea. In particular, if China wanted to be rid of North Korea’s current leader Kim Jong-un, then China could have him killed and replaced by Kim Han-sol.

Whether or not China might actually do that, it is not surprising that the paranoid child dictator Kim Jong-un believes that the Chinese might do it. It is believed by some analysts that that’s the motive why the assassination of Kim Jong-nam was ordered, and why the assassination of Kim Han-sol could be ordered for the same reason.

Other reports indicate that Kim Han-sol has been advised to give up his plans to study at Oxford University for fear of being assassinated. Chinese authorities have reportedly told him that they could not protect him there. He had previously planned to study at Oxford starting in the fall, where his girlfriend Sonia is already studying. Straits Times and Daily Mail (London) and Oxford Student

New sanctions indicate China is running out of patience with Kim Jong-un

If the Chinese DID want to eliminate Kim Jong-un, few people would be surprised. Kim has caused numerous problems for China by conducting nuclear and ballistic missile tests in violation of United Nations sanctions. Now, the alleged use of the illegal weapon of mass destruction, VX nerve agent, to kill Kim Jong-nam, who was living in Macau under China’s protection, is a new major embarrassment for the Beijing regime.

According to an analysis by the Hong Kong based South China Morning Post:

China may now realize that continued inaction on North Korea conflicts with its rising international clout and contradicts its national interest. Kim’s weapons of mass destruction pose the same risk to China as they do to South Korea, Japan or the United States.

North Korea’s relentless weapons build-up has fueled an arms race in the region. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, India and Australia are scrambling to upgrade their defenses. South Korea’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense [THAAD] system to contain the North’s nuclear capability is perhaps the highest-profile reaction, a move that Beijing is fiercely fighting against for fear it could also be used to curb China.

All this risks triggering a nuclear domino effect in Northeast Asia. Trump has even suggested that Japan and South Korea acquire nuclear weapons to counter any challenge from North Korea.

In this volatile environment, China’s continued support of a regime widely seen as a state sponsor of terrorism and a major threat to peace in the region will only damage Beijing’s international image and undermine relations with most of its important trade partners – South Korea, Japan and the US, among others.

China announced two weeks ago that it would impose its own sanctions on North Korea by blocking imports of coal. The SCMP analysis says that this decision was tied to South Korean politics and the deployment of THAAD:

Before the missile test and the assassination, South Korea’s public was fairly evenly split into two camps on how to handle ties with Pyongyang [North Korea]: those who wanted to engage North Korea peacefully, usually on the left, and those who wanted to take a more forceful stand, usually on the right. This division could tip the balance of the presidential election scheduled for later this year.

The position on North Korea has serious and immediate repercussions for China. South Korea in recent months has lost its patience with the North and it deployed a new American missile defense system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). This is officially aimed at the North, but it clearly can also be used against China.

Seoul [South Korea] in turn decided on THAAD for many reasons, including out of frustration at Beijing’s inability to rein in Pyongyang. If China cannot get the North to pursue reasonable politics and give up its wave of threatening nuclear and missile experiments, then the South has to rely more on American military protection. In the same way, the US felt that if China was unable to control Kim, it had to take steps to guarantee the status quo of the region.

An electoral victory of the left could reopen a discussion on THAAD, something that with a new right-wing president is more unlikely.

The assassination of Kim Jong-nam now casts a whole new spell on South Korean politics. It reinforces the chances of the right, but it also makes very difficult if not impossible for the left to think of engaging the North or withdrawing THAAD.

The SCMP analysis concludes that China hopes that refusing to import North Korean coal will cause the country “to buckle and give in to demands from the outside world,” though it also worries that the plan may backfire and cause Kim Jong-un to “up the ante, daring the whole planet to attack.” South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and South China Morning Post

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Malaysia, North Korea, Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un, Kang Chol, China, North Korea, Kim Jong-un, VX, weapons of mass destruction, Glocom, South Korea, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, THAAD, Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Macau, Oxford University
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