6 Things You Must Know About Malaysia's Relationship With North Korea

Do we share a cordial relationship with one of the most reclusive country in the world?

Cover image via Reuters

On Monday, 13 February, a Korean national was murdered at the KLIA2 airport. He was later identified as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's estranged half-brother, Kim Jong-nam.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's estranged half-brother, the late Kim Jong-nam.

Image via AP

Kim Jong-nam was on his way to catch a flight to Macau when he was reportedly murdered at the KLIA2 airport on Monday morning. He was travelling with a fake passport, under the name Kim Chol.

Based on the CCTV footage and some initial investigation on the case, the Malaysian police released statements saying that they believe two women had reportedly poisoned the victim by spraying him with a type of liquid that is yet to be identified or revealed. Kim Jong-nam died on the way to a hospital in Putrajaya.

Three days after his death, the North Korean embassy has finally come forward and confirmed that Kim Chol is indeed Kim Jong-nam. In a report by The Star today, 16 February, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said that Jon-nam was travelling with an authentic passport issued by North Korea under the name 'Kim Chol'.

"I think he carries two different identities (passports). It is an authentic passport," added Zahid at a press conference in Putrajaya today.

The Malaysian authorities have since arrested two women in relation to Jon-nam's murder - 'Doan This Huong', a 29-year-old women with a Vietnamese passport and another woman holding an Indonesian passport under the name 'Siti Aishah'.

The two suspects have been remanded for seven days while the authorities are on the lookout for the four men who were said to be travelling with the two women.

With investigations underway, the high-profile assassination has turned the attention to Malaysia - putting our diplomatic ties with one of the world's most reclusive countries, North Korea, under spotlight

The Wall Street Journal released an article on 15 February, titled 'Malaysia, North Korea Ties Run Deep', calling Malaysia the "stomping ground for North Koreans".

It said that compared to countries like Japan, America, and China, Malaysia shares a better relationship with North Korea, adding that it is quite a popular place for North Koreans to do business.

Speaking of ties between Malaysia and North Korea, here are six indications that both countries share a strong and rapidly growing diplomatic relation:

1. There is a Malaysian embassy in the capital of North Korea in Pyongyang

The Malaysian embassy in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Image via Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia

The Malaysian embassy in Pyongyang was opened in 2003, the same year the North Korean embassy was established in Kuala Lumpur. Tun Dato' Sri Haji Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi was the Malaysian prime minister when the embassy was opened.

The North Korean embassy in Malaysia is located at No. 7, Jalan Batai, Damansara Heights, 59100 Kuala Lumpur.

2. Malaysia is the only country in the world that has a visa-free entry into North Korea

Image via The Rakyat Post

After the opening of the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur back in 2003, Malaysia started developing a healthy relationship with North Korea.

That led to Malaysia becoming the first country in the world to be allowed to travel visa-free to North Korea in 2009, the same year Datuk Seri Najib Razak became the sixth and current Malaysian prime minister.

Malaysian citizens can visit North Korea with the Malaysian passport for up to one month without a visa.

Korea International Travel company president Jo Su Gyu said in 2009 that Malaysia is the only country that North Korea has fully opened its doors to.

"It is the only country whose people can come to visit without a visa. We warmly welcome Malaysians to Pyongyang. North Korea is a good place to travel and it’s near China, so there are more opportunities.

"There is no AIDS, no theft and no beggars, and the people are educated," said Jo during a press conference for a Malaysia-North Korea Travel Agent Alliance that was formed in 2009.

3. To enhance its tourism sector, North Korea opened a direct air route to Malaysia in 2011. About four years later in 2014, the route was discontinued following new United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea.

Image via Two Clock

In 2011, North Korea's flagship carrier, Air Koryo started operating direct flights from Pyongyang to Kuala Lumpur and vice versa but that came to an end when Malaysia acted on United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea.

It was reported that Air Koryo's last flight to Malaysia was on 8 June 2014, after Malaysia banned North Korean flights from landing, taking off, and transiting in the Malaysian territory or air space.

In 2016, the Security Council released a fresh set of sanctions on Democratic People's Republic of Korea after they conducted a fourth nuclear test and launched a long-range missile that they claimed was carrying a satellite.

4. Malaysia signed a cultural exchange memorandum of understanding (MOU) with North Korea in February 2017

NK News, a privately owned news site that focuses on North Korean news, reported on 10 February that Malaysia has just signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with North Korea on cultural exchange between the two countries.

The MOU is said to focus on museums, archives, libraries, arts, and cultural institutions in both the countries.

Malaysia's envoy to North Korea Ambassador Mohammad Nizan Bin Mohammad said that the agreement is still at an infant stage and both the countries hope that it can "enhance the bilateral relations between the two countries, in this aspect of cultural and arts-related issues."

5. Malaysia's trade with North Korea amounted to approximately RM22.72 million in 2015 alone

Image via My Palm Oil

North Korea imports refined oil, natural rubber, and palm oil from Malaysia, while Malaysia sources for electrical and electronic products, chemicals products, iron, and steel products from North Korea.

In late December 2016, The Star reported Malaysia External Trade Development Corp (Matrade) chief executive officer Datuk Dzulkifli Mahmud saying that Malaysia is looking to increase trade with North Korea through the 13th Malaysia International Showcase which was held from 8 till 11 December 2016.

"The showcase will help facilitate trade and investments as well as establish new business relationships.

"North Korea is now looking at using Malaysia as a gateway to South-East Asian markets as it finds the country business-friendly with pro-business policies," explained Dzulkifli.

He also mentioned that participation in the showcase from North Korean companies have increased from just four companies in 2015 to 18 in 2016.

6. HELP University awarded North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un with an honorary doctorate in Economics in 2013

Kim Jong-un

Image via Ed Jones, AFP/Getty Images

The Malaysian private university conferred the award to Kim Jong-un in a ceremony at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur. HELP University president Datuk Dr Paul Chan along with 35 other invitees took part in the ceremony.

The North Korean ambassador to Malaysia accepted the award on behalf of the country's leader.

Dr Chan said in a statement that he hopes to use education a bridge the gap between the two countries.

"We should use education to help the people of DPR Korea have a better life and a higher standard of living. Above all, let's help them integrate faster into the global network of open societies," he added.

Kim Jong-un is the first foreign leader to receive a honorary degree from HELP University.

The sudden interest in Malaysia's ties with North Korea was sparked by the assassination of its leader's half-brother, Kim Jong-Nam at KLIA2. READ ON:

Also, read about this Malaysian's experience of travelling to North Korea:

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