Wisma Putra proposes closing embassy in Pyongyang

KUCHING, Oct 12 – In the latest development in Malaysia’s diplomatic spat with North Korea, stemming from the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in Kuala Lumpur, the Foreign Ministry now wants to shut down the Malaysian embassy in Pyongyang.

Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said in Kuching today he would submit a cabinet paper soon proposing that the embassy be relocated in Beijing.

In a public lecture at Universiti Sarawak Malaysia in Kota Samarahan on issues and challenges in managing Malaysia’s foreign policy, Anifah said it was also “not fair” to send an ambassador back over security fears.

The Korean peninsular is also in a state of tension as Pyongyang continues to launch missile and nuclear bomb tests while embroiled in an exchange of threats with the United States

In March, Pyongyang expelled Malaysian ambassador Mohamad Nizan Mohamad in retaliation to the expulsion of North Korean ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol, who was declared persona non grata on March 4. He was given 48 hours to leave the country after he failed to respond to the summon to appear at Wisma Putra to answer questions on allegations he had thrown at Malaysian authorities over their handling of Jong-nam’s murder.

Nine Malaysian embassy staff and their dependents in Pyongyang were next barred from leaving the country.

Getting them out was a diplomatic feat itself, Anifah told the students, who were mainly pursuing international relations studies.

For the first time, he also disclosed that Wisma Putra at the time could not charter a plane to fly the embassy staff out because “nobody wanted to fly there”.

He said it was due to fears the plane could be seized by the erratic North Koreans.

Anifah said it was also necessary to apply “cautious diplomacy” in Wisma Putra’s negotiations with Pyongyang.

“There was a flurry of statements from everyone who had anything to do with the case, and even statements from a number of people who had nothing to do with it.

“Let me be frank, some of the hasty statements painted Malaysia in a bad light and incited the public even more.

“As a minister, I bided my time, making statements only when it was absolutely necessary.

“Emotions were running high at the time and there was no need to add fuel to fire already raging out of control.

“In the end, it was fortuitous that the Minister of Foreign Affairs did not make any bold statements. Statements, once made cannot not be recanted or retracted.

“It helped because once the negotiations for the nine Malaysians in Pyongyang began, we were able to sit down and discuss amicably without all the bad words hanging over our heads like the sword of Damocles,” he said.

The nine were eventually safely flown out in an Air Force plane, “away from the prying eyes of the international press” at 3am.

Anifah said the flight had to be “synchronised” to take off at the same time the plane carrying the North Korean suspects in Jong-nam’s murder flew out.

Two women, Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong and Indonesian Siti Aisyah, are currently on trial for the murder of Jong-Nam.

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