Pru­dent, wise to end visa ar­range­ment

Friend­ship be­tween na­tions when tested be­yond en­durance, needs ad­just­ments

New Straits Times - - News -

VISA-FREE travel makes for ease of busi­ness and tourism, the two rea­sons why coun­tries have such bi­lat­eral ar­range­ments. The eco­nomic ra­tio­nale is the im­per­a­tive. How­ever, the ar­range­ment can give cause for con­cern be­cause crim­i­nal in­tent can mean abuse, as in the re­cent mur­der of a North Korean na­tional at klia2. The mas­ter­minds, ac­cord­ing to po­lice are fel­low coun­try­men of the de­ceased. That North Kore­ans can en­ter the coun­try eas­ily is be­cause of the visa-free ar­range­ment that Malaysia has with North Korea, al­beit it works both ways. Malaysians, too, can walk into North Korea has­sle free.

But, as of yes­ter­day, this priv­i­lege has been with­drawn. Ef­fec­tive Mon­day, North Kore­ans wish­ing to en­ter Malaysia will have to ap­ply for a visa. Malaysia was one of the few coun­tries in the world that al­lowed easy ac­cess to the cit­i­zens of the se­cre­tive, nu­clear-armed state. It is not yet known of North Korea’s re­sponse, but it would be of no sur­prise, or a big loss, if it chose to re­cip­ro­cate. Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Datuk Seri Ah­mad Zahid Hamidi cited na­tional se­cu­rity con­cerns, and rightly so, con­sid­er­ing North Korea’s non-co­op­er­a­tion in the mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and its reluctance to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on the seven suspects in­volved, in­clud­ing a se­nior of­fi­cial in the North Korean Em­bassy. Zahid had warned North Korean diplo­mats not to take ad­van­tage of Malaysia’s hospi­tal­ity, and to not “make this coun­try a plat­form” for its na­tional agenda.

In­deed, Malaysia is not amused by the an­tics of the North Korean am­bas­sador and his team.

When weigh­ing against the diplo­matic row be­tween North Korea and Malaysia over the mur­der, it is cer­tainly not worth Malaysia’s while to con­tinue with the visa ar­range­ment. Malaysia’s trade with North Korea ac­counts for only 0.02 per cent of the coun­try’s to­tal an­nual trade. That is minis­cule. And, given the reclu­sive na­ture of the regime and its many re­stric­tions on its pop­u­la­tion, there is very lit­tle like­li­hood that North Korean vis­i­tors are go­ing to do much for Malaysia’s econ­omy. Over­all, there is lit­tle go­ing for Malaysia to main­tain visa free travel with North Korea when lit­tle ap­pre­ci­a­tion is demon­strated.

In­deed, if the coun­try con­cerned was China, Ja­pan, the United States or Canada, then visa-free travel is a boon for Malaysia. These are ad­vanced, high-in­come economies that Malaysia trades with, and vis­i­tors from these coun­tries are en­cour­aged as they bring in the much needed for­eign ex­change. Long-stay for­eign­ers, like stu­dents and work­ers, mean­while, do not fall un­der visa-free travel; spe­cific per­mits ex­ists for their pur­pose.

The dis­re­gard for diplo­matic pro­to­col by North Korea to Malaysia is sim­ply ap­palling. Now, North Korea is main­tain­ing that the body in the morgue is Kim Chol, as stated in his pass­port, and not the es­tranged half-brother of the coun­try’s leader. Hence, end­ing the visa-free travel be­tween the two coun­tries is only wise and pru­dent, not least for na­tional se­cu­rity rea­sons, but that there is no com­pelling eco­nomic rea­sons to fa­cil­i­tate un­hin­dered travel.

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