North Korea’s action undiplomatic
Malaysians must be allowed to leave that country
ACCORDING to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the host nation must guarantee the inviolability of everything associated with the diplomats and their families. To prevent them from leaving the country would breach the terms of the convention. Meanwhile, the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages — intended to prevent terrorism — guarantees the safety of civilians and, in time of war, the Geneva Convention. International law is clear. For Pyongyang to prevent Malaysians in North Korea from leaving is illegal. And, as a precaution rather than retaliation, Putrajaya is preventing North Koreans from leaving. Malaysia’s reaction is understandable, given the way the saga of the murder of the North Korean leader’s half-brother is unfolding and Pyongyang’s notorious disregard for international law.
Being accused of playing “into” the gallery by North Korea because Malaysia conducts its affairs as dictated by the rule of law is an insult. Declaring Pyongyang’s unrepentant ambassador persona non grata was forced on Malaysia to uphold its dignity. The tit-for-tat reaction was to be expected and given that it was not really enforceable because the Malaysian ambassador was already home, Pyongyang crossed the diplomatic red line to, presumably, save face. North Korea’s belligerence is legion, more so under the young Kim Jong-un, who has been testing ballistic missiles despite protests from the United States, Russia and China.
However, given the current problems in the Sea of Japan and the South China Sea involving Japan, China and the US, this episode might not be so innocuous and is testing Malaysia’s diplomatic dexterity. Climbing down in the face of much provocation is not the solution. Putrajaya must find a way to ease tensions between the two countries without undue interference by the big powers. Caving in to demands for the victim’s remains cannot happen until investigations are complete and the culprits are identified; and, even then, the surrender of the body is to the next of kin or someone authorised by them.
That Malaysians in North Korea may be in jeopardy is not to be taken lightly given Pyongyang’s record. It has admitted to abducting at least 13 Japanese citizens between 1977 and 1983, although Tokyo says the number is 17. And, testimonies of abductions of other nationals are many. Dealing with a rogue state once sympathetic to terrorists will not be straightforward. Banning Malaysians from leaving was, to many, unexpected. It is difficult to predict what Pyongyang will do next given its statement that all Malaysians were temporarily “prohibited from leaving the country until the incident that happened in Malaysia is properly solved”. It’s unclear what resolution North Korea is seeking. But, it has rejected the findings of the Malaysian police that Kim Jongnam was poisoned by the VX nerve agent. Are there other diplomatic channels to solve the problem to everyone’s satisfaction? Malaysia must demand for the safe wellbeing of her citizens and that they be allowed to return home, as provided for under international law.
Putrajaya must find a way to ease tensions between the two countries without undue interference by the big powers.