Malaysia escalates diplomatic rift with North Korea over assassination

Guess Malaysia isn’t buying the “heart attack” claim from their soon-to-be-former friends in Pyongyang, eh? After staging an assassination with a weapon of mass destruction in their largest airport, North Korea has lost its status as a “visa waiver” country with Malaysia, greatly complicating travel to one of the few countries willing to allow North Koreans to enter. The bizarre murder and the use of a chemical cited as a WMD in a formerly friendly country continues to backfire on the Kim regime:

Malaysia unveiled its first sanctions Thursday against North Korea for the killing of Kim Jong Nam, rescinding the rare privilege of visa-free travel for North Korean citizens, but also said it would release the only North Korean suspect detained in the killing on lack of evidence. …

Malaysia is in the midst of re-evaluating ties since the killing and rejected North Korea’s criticism of the investigation and Pyongyang’s call for the return of Mr. Kim’s remains without an autopsy. On Thursday, Malaysia cited security concerns in rescinding the privilege of visa-free travel to North Koreans. The measure goes into effect Monday.

“We act sternly to ensure the safety of our citizens,” Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said. “Do not use Malaysia as a place to execute the antics you think you can carry out.…We don’t want to make enemies, but they have used Malaysia as a site to interpret their own agenda.”

Even the release isn’t all good news for Pyongyang. Malaysian police fingered Ri Jong Chol as the getaway driver, a secondary player at best in the conspiracy to assassinate Kim Jong-nam. North Korean authorities had demanded his release, and they got even more — a deportation order to go along with it. Malaysia wants the other four North Korean suspects returned to face charges, and while Pyongyang refuses, Malaysia may find ways to send back even more North Koreans over the next few weeks, especially now that visas will be required.

The re-evaluation of diplomatic relations likely won’t stop at visas, AFP reported. Malaysia may end diplomatic relations altogether:

A senior Malaysian official told AFP that the government was mulling further “downgrading diplomatic ties” with North Korea.

“Malaysia is considering shutting down its mission in Pyongyang,” he said, as well as the expulsion of the North Korean ambassador following his “baseless allegations”, a reference to accusations of bias in the murder probe.

All of this keeps prompting the question of what the Kim regime hoped to accomplish. No one took either of Kim Jong-un’s brothers seriously; both of them have lived largely dissipated lives, and neither of them seemed interested in politics on any level. Jong-nam had offered a few criticisms of dynastic rule in general and Jong-un in particular, but those were from years ago. Jong-nam had lived under China’s protection since 2002, as has … North Korea, and for a lot longer than that. Think that’s escaped attention in Beijing?

Help me out on the payoff here. For what looks like not anything more than Jong-un’s ego, North Korea conducted an assassination in the sovereign territory of one rare friend and embarrassed another. Moreover, they used a toxin so unique that it only points back to themselves. Someone in Pyongyang must have thought all this was worth the kill, but so far, no one’s offered anything close to a rational explanation for it.

Their diplomatic disaster in Malaysia isn’t the only bad news coming for Pyongyang. CBS News has a copy of a soon-to-be-published report from the United Nations on North Korea’s avoidance of sanctions, which might make it tougher for the Kim regime to escape the economic noose:

“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is flouting sanctions through trade in prohibited goods, with evasion techniques that are increasing in scale, scope and sophistication,” the panel concludes. …

One of the entities designated for sanctions, North Korea’s Atomic Energy Ministry, is essentially operating under the pseudonym of the Korea Kumsan Trading Corporation, the panel found. The report recommends that Kumsan be designated for sanctions, also, based on the attempted sale of prohibited minerals and use of the North’s embassy in Moscow for commercial activities. …

A section entitled “Embargoes” documents the continued trade in arms and materials through procurement services in Asia, Africa and the Middle East; the panel’s investigations in 2016 highlighted the country’s trade in encrypted military communications, man-portable air defense systems, air defense systems and satellite-guided missiles.

The report says debris collected from the February 2016 missile launch included foreign-sourced commercial items including camera electromagnetic interference (EMI) filter, ball bearings, and pressure transmitters.

And guess where else North Korea goes to avoid sanctions? Oopsie:

Malaysia, where VX nerve agent was used in the murder of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, is one of the many transit points where, the report says, foreign nationals and entities conduct business through multinational financial centers that conceal financial activity by North Korea.

That’s yet another reason this assassination beggars belief. With their economic viability as a regime at stake, that’s where the Kim regime decided to whack Dear Leader’s brother? When Malaysia freezes out North Korea, they’re going to find it a very cold winter indeed in Pyongyang. If this is the strategic thinking that dominates the Kim regime, it might not last for very much longer.

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