Decision a signal to US, warning to Asean

A policeman inspects a document outside the compounds of the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur on March 19,2021, after the country severed diplomatic ties with Malaysia in response to the extradition of a North Korean citizen to the US earlier this month. (Photo by Mohd RASFAN/ AFP)

PETALING JAYA: North Korea’s decision to sever diplomatic ties with Malaysia was a signal to the United States and a warning to other Asean member states, rather than just about its relationship with Malaysia, says an expert on international affairs.

Solaris Strategies Singapore senior international affairs analyst Dr Mustafa Izzuddin said the “erratic decision” by North Korea would not lead to an escalation since ties between the two countries have yet to return to normalcy since the Kim Jong-nam assassination in 2017 and because of the absence of any bilateral trade agreement.

“Economic activities between the two countries are not really substantial and the decision by North Korea is to send a signal to the United States, with Malaysia being used as the conduit.

“It is also a signal to other Asean countries that North Korea would not tolerate its citizens being extradited to the United States.

“It is also unlikely for Malaysia to be the one targeted when things escalate between North Korea and the United States, ” said Mustafa when contacted.

He was commenting on the decision by North Korea to sever diplomatic relations with Malaysia after the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled that a North Korean man, Mun Chol-myong, could be extradited to the United States to face money-laundering charges.

Mun was arrested here in 2019 after the United States accused him of laundering funds through front companies and issuing fraudulent documents to support illicit shipments to North Korea.

He argued that the accusations were politically motivated.

North Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has warned that Washington “would pay a price” and described the extradition as a “nefarious act and unpardonably heavy crime” by Malaysian authorities, who had “offered our citizen as a sacrifice of the US hostile move in defiance of acknowledged international laws.”

Mustafa, who is also a visiting professor of international relations at the Islamic University of Indonesia, said that the severity of this “severing of ties” would depend on how Malaysia responds.

“Severing ties at the first level would be more on a diplomatic basis before it goes to the final stage where both cut off ties completely.“After 2017, Malaysia never returned to its visa-free travel to North Korea. It may affect companies and place a lot of hurdles when this happens, but companies would tend to use third parties to overcome this to do business, ” he said.

“As to whether China would come in to influence the North Korean regime and intervene between Malaysia and North Korea, I do not think so it would do so at this stage.

“China has its influences but it does not influence the North Korean regime’s decision making, ” Mustafa added.

He said although China and North Korea have a common enemy in the United States, China has a more open policy and tends to be more responsible in its actions as it needs the trade investments.

“The only setback from this current impasse would be Malaysia losing its role of being a middle power when there are issues involving North Korea.

“Malaysia has always been seen internationally as the ‘moderate country’ which can play mediator between countries, ” said Mustafa.

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