Malaysia planning to shut embassy in North Korea in latest sign of frayed relations

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 October, 2017, 5:54pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 October, 2017, 10:44pm

Malaysia plans to “close down” its embassy in Pyongyang, a Foreign Ministry source said on Friday, confirming reports that the ministry has recommended to the cabinet that the country’s embassy in China also be accredited to North Korea.

“Wisma Putra (the Foreign Ministry) will be putting up the recommendation for the cabinet to decide. We will have to wait until the cabinet has made a decision,” an aide to foreign minister Anifah Aman told Kyodo News on condition of anonymity.

The aide was confirming local media reports in which Anifah was quoted as saying his ministry “will file recommendation papers for the Malaysian embassy in Beijing to be accredited to North Korea.”

Anifah did not rule out breaking off diplomatic relations in the more distant future, saying, “We may or may not sever ties with North Korea.”

Diplomatic ties were established in 1973 and Malaysia opened its embassy in Pyongyang in February 2004. In May 2006, the embassy was moved from a temporary office at the Koryo Hotel to a permanent building in the capital’s Munsudong diplomatic quarter.

The two countries had for many years enjoyed warm ties, with visa-free travel between them, until the audacious assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13, 2017.

Two women, an Indonesian and a Vietnamese are currently on trial for killing him with VX nerve agent. But authorities believed North Koreans were the true masterminds of the assassination.

North Korea has denied its involvement, even refusing to acknowledge the deceased was Kim Jong-nam and insisting on calling him Kim Chol, the name that appeared in the passport found with the body.

The North has accused Malaysia of tarnishing Pyongyang’s image.

A heated exchange of words later led to Malaysia recalling its ambassador in Pyongyang a week after the murder. The visa-free policy was also scrapped.

Malaysia subsequently expelled the ambassador of North Korea, which then barred Malaysian diplomats remaining in Pyongyang from leaving.

They were only allowed to go after Malaysia agreed to repatriate Kim’s body and allow three North Koreans police suspected of having links to the murder to return home after having their statements taken.

Around 160 countries have diplomatic relations with North Korea, but only a couple of dozen have embassies in Pyongyang. In some cases, diplomatic staff handling North Korean affairs are based at embassies in Beijing or Seoul.