At best, it is lack of sophistication. At worst, it is an admission of guilt. But, whatever it is, North Korea’s behaviour is unacceptable. Its reaction to the murder of a North Korean, suspected to be the estranged half-brother of the country’s leader, is not one of respect for the dead. And, for the ambassador to baselessly accuse Malaysia of withholding the remains as part of a conspiracy against Pyongyang, is an insult. Granted the murder has put the ambassador in an awkward position, but a murder has occurred; hence, an investigation must be carried out as the country’s laws expect no less. That the government reacted and declared the ambassador persona non grata and ordered him to leave Malaysia within 48 hours since yesterday is expected.

Malaysia’s sovereignty and dignity cannot be trifled with. The country is geostrategically located and has long carried with it challenges, but contemporary history has demonstrated how protective the leaders were and are of Malaysia’s neutrality and security. That suddenly Malaysia has been identified as a conduit for North Korean weapons sales to circumvent United Nations sanctions has left the country’s officials flabbergasted, if not utterly disgusted. Malaysia is an open economy and is foreign investment-friendly, within limits of course. Reuters ran the story of a North Korean weapons network in Malaysia without solid evidence, quoting a draft of a UN Security Council report. It stated that North Korea was evading sanctions through a network of overseas front companies, including in Malaysia. Surely, the UN could have easily investigated if it had any suspicions of North Korea’s sanctions being busted? Putrajaya would be only too pleased to oblige. Nevertheless, the companies named by the report have been summarily deregistered. Furthermore, Malaysian law is harsh for anybody found with illegal firearms.

Given the assault on the country’s security, this latest move by the government is Malaysia taking and reiterating her stand. The government has already done away with the visa waiver arrangement for North Koreans. This will ensure better screening of North Koreans wishing to come here. But, a crime has still been committed, and investigations are still not yet completed, far from it. And, with the North Korean ambassador’s recalcitrance and refusal to apologise for his uncalled for remarks and lack of diplomatic decorum for failing to meet Wisma Putra officials after being summoned, what else can Malaysia do? Short of breaking diplomatic relations, Wisma Putra is trying its level best to keep relations civil but obviously, Pyongyang is not making it easy. As Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had said, North Korea must respect the diplomatic relationship with Malaysia. He said declaring the ambassador persona non grata was to send “a loud and clear message” to the North Korean government that Malaysia does not take too kindly to allegations and accusations.

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