North Korea envoy walking a fine line

North Korea

SEVEN years ago, 46 South Korean sailors died when their warship sank after being torpedoed by North Korea, near a disputed inter-Korean border.

Despite an international investigation pointing towards Pyongyang as the perpetrator, North Korea flatly rejected the findings of the investigation into the sinking of Cheonan, denied any involvement and threatened war against the South for the accusation.

North Korean Permanent Representative to the United Nations Sin Son-ho cast doubt on the credibility of the international Joint Investigation Group, branding its findings “a complete fabrication from A to Z”.

At a rare news conference at the United Nations, Sin demanded that a military investigation team from North Korea be permitted to go to the site of the sinking to verify the result of a South Korean probe “in an objective and scientific way”, which South Korea had refused to allow.

Do Sin’s demands back then sound familiar today vis-a-vis the murder of Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia?

North Korea’s Ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol has been lashing out at the Malaysian Government for keeping his officials out of the police probe into the murder of the estranged half-brother of his country’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un.

Like Sin at the United Nations, who rejected the international investigation outcome, Kang has threatened to dismiss the Malaysian police findings and instead demanded a joint probe.

It is a first for Malaysia, really, in recent years. A foreign ambassador who decided to insult his host government under the full glare of the international media.

Images of the North Korean diplomat reading out his statement outside the embassy in Kuala Lumpur and insulting the Government were headline news globally.

Those who have dealt with Kang say he has remained steadfast to his country’s position in any meetings they have had with him.

Even in the latest case, the North Korean envoy has insisted that Pyongyang be involved right from the start.

Kang’s outburst is nothing new or odd. The words he used were recycled, just like Pyongyang’s reaction to the sinking of the Cheonan warship.

Since last week, Kang and the Malaysian Government (read: the police and Wisma Putra) have been having a war of words.

For sure, Kang is not about to hold his tongue fighting for what Pyongyang expects him to.

And on Wednesday, Kang received a “boost” from back home when the North Korean Jurist Committee in a statement said the Malaysian investigation into the death of one of its nationals is full of “holes and contradictions”.

For Malaysia, the Government must be able to determine whether the ambassador has crossed the line and to decide what to do with Kang.

A Malaysian official said if North Korea and Kang continue to demonise the authorities, Malaysia’s image will take a beating.

“It all depends to what extent we want to tolerate his attacks and insults. It is not for him to insult us.

“If he continues to demonise our authorities, naturally it will dent our image. By doing so, he cannot be accepted as an ambassador who should otherwise work to promote good relations.

“Do we want to tolerate his insults just because we expect something bad will happen to him?” asked a diplomat.

Of course, many of us think that Kang has crossed the line and should be expelled.

But there are short- and long-term implications of such a measure, especially when the police have now named one diplomatic embassy staff member to help in their investigation.

“We must send the message across that Malaysia has its laws and we must be firm,” said an official.

But to make matters worse, under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, a full-fledged diplomat enjoys full diplomatic privileges. The police investigation may be at risk if he claims immunity.

When Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar named the North Korean diplomat, a few officials were surprised and questioned if the police were advised on the diplomatic immunity.

This verbal jousting continues as the investigation into Jong-nam’s killing continues.

The whole world is now waiting for Malaysia’s next move in dealing with the North Korean diplomat.

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