‘It’s no great loss to us’
KUALA LUMPUR: A cold relationship is in the offing between Malaysia and North Korea following the abolishment of the visafree policy for North Koreans travelling here effective Monday.
Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi yesterday announced this, citing security.
Academician Professor Dr Sufian Jusoh said the cancellation gave North Koreans lesser freedom to travel, and would affect their trade industry, where Malaysia had played a role all these years.
Sufian said the undiplomatic statement by the North Korean ambassador to Malaysia Kangchol sparked this when he lashed out at the way the authorities handled the assassination of Kim Jong-nam on Feb 13 at klia2.
“It is going to be a cold relationship between the two countries for a long, long time,” said the senior fellow and deputy director of the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies Association.
Sufian said the cancellation would bring further disrepute to North Korea in the region, as Singapore had made a similar move last year in protest over a nuclear test Pyongyang launched.
“With the policy cancellation, North Koreans can anticipate, among others, tighter screening at airports and at least a 15 per cent drop in trade. Not many countries are willing to trade with them, especially considering the sanctions imposed by the UN.”
Another academic, Datuk Steven Wong, said the move was an apt first response and it was not an exaggerated measure.
“Malaysia’s foreign policy of friendly relations is based on the assumption of responsible nation states.
“When this assumption is violated, an existential security threat is posed, so it is right that firm action is taken,” he said.
The post-murder reactions were not those of a nation seeking cordial and cooperative ties with a sovereign country, said Wong, who is deputy chief executive of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies.
“While I do not believe that either side would benefit from cutting off diplomatic ties, I see no basis for proceeding.”
International relations scholar Dr Oh Ei Sun said the cancellation was long overdue.
“This is one of the world’s most sanctioned nations, and their past international behaviours are not spotless.
“It is not as if not having official relations with them will be a great diplomatic or economic loss to us,” said Oh, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
“The same could not be said for North Korea, which is ostracised by the mainstream of the international community.”
Pyongyang and Kuala Lumpur have enjoyed relatively warm economic ties, with some bilateral trade and citizens from both countries entitled to travel to the other under a unique reciprocal visa-free deal.
The North Korean embassy was opened in Kuala Lumpur in 2003, along with the Malaysian embassy in Pyongyang there.
And, in 2009, Malaysia became the first country whose citizens were able to travel to North Korea without a visa.