North Korea’s ac­tion undiplo­matic

Malaysians must be al­lowed to leave that coun­try

New Straits Times - - News -

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.

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