North Korea vs. Malaysia
The diplomatic parlay between Malaysia and North Korea continues to surprise in scope following the assassination of Kim Jong-nam. This weekend, Malaysia expelled North Korean ambassador Kang Chol. Kang left the country on Monday. While leaving, he said that such extreme measures are hurting the relations between the countries (NY Times).
North Korea, on Monday, had a strong reaction. Malaysian ambassador to North Korea Mohamad Nizan Mohamad was declared person non grata and given 48 hours to leave. The irony, however, was that he was already home, having been summoned for a consultation on February 22 (The Star). Pyongyang also went a step further. On Monday, state media declared an exit ban on all Malaysians currently inside North Korea (Yonhap), Malaysia continued the back and forth, placing an exit ban on all North Koreans in Malaysia until Malaysians in North Korea are safely back home. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, in a statement, called North Korea’s actions abhorrent and against international norms (AlJezzera). Though North Korea has never been one to follow the rules, this diplomatic tit-for-tat is very abnormal. As it stands, the murder of Kim Jong-nam, a case which the world may never learn all the answers to, will be a thorn in the side of Malaysian-North Korean relations as each nation accuses the other of the death.
North Korea vs. The World
Over the weekend, North Korea fired off 4 rockets into the ocean, with 3 falling into the Japanese Exclusive Economic Zone; the rockets flew 1000km and reached an altitude of 260km after being fired from the Dongchang-ri test facility, home of the Sohae Launch Station (Korea Times). This is the biggest show of aggression–nuclear tests excluded–since Kim Jung-un took over in 2011.
(Image: Map showing the distance of the missiles tested by North Korea. Source: Korea Times)
The reason behind the test is fairly clear, to protest the ongoing military drills in South Korea which will run until April. Before the test, North Korea said, through the Rodong Shinmun, “as long as the drill is not suspended, we will continue to strengthen our national defense capabilities centering on a nuclear force to defend our country” (UPI). Though the motivation behind the test is nothing new, the actual test itself is alarming. Japanese analysts have concluded that North Korea tested a new attack strategy to use against Japan (NY Times). Even North Korea acknowledged this, saying the test was conducted by units who are “tasked to strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggression forces in Japan,” (Yonhap).
This brazen provocative behavior has sent leaders pushing to condemn the action. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first to condemn the test, filing a strong protest against the action (The Korea Page). President Trump, in a call with acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to Seoul (Hindustan Times). South Korean presidential hopefuls also condemned the test. Moon Jae-in, the leading progressive, urged “the repressive state to immediately stop provocations that are putting the Korean Peninsula in danger.” An Hee-jong said that North Korea could only survive if it becomes a full member of the international community. Other candidates also condemned the test (Korea Times). North Korea responded in typical North Korean fashion, echoing its insistence that the joint drills in South Korea are pushing the region to a nuclear disaster (ABC Austrailia).
It is on the issue of THAAD where South Korea made major moves in light of the test. On Tuesday, parts for the missile defense system started to arrive in South Korea (Bloomberg). This move was met with skepticism by the opposition parties in Korea. The parties all rose questions about the rushed manner of the move, arguing that it was a politically motivated move ahead of the elections (Yonhap). THAAD has long been a contentious domestic debate within South Korea, pitting opposition parties against the ruling party for years. China has been retaliating to the deployment of THAAD in an interesting way. Authorities are shutting down Lotte Marts in China as a possible economic retaliation for the deployment (Joongang Ilbo). THAAD, though necessary, will remain a hard debate in the region. However, as I have previously argued, there may be ways to bolster Chinese and Russian support for the deployment (The Korea Page).