Malaysian Prince Meets North Korean Diplomat Ahead of Pyongyang Football Match

Hata Wahari
Kuala Lumpur
170919-malaysia-top-620.jpg Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Idris Sultan Ibrahim (left) meets with North Korean Chargé D’Affaires Kim Yu Song (second from right), Sept. 19, 2017.
Courtesy of Johor Southern Tigers

Updated at 7:45 a.m. ET on 2017-09-20

A Malaysian prince said he had a “very positive” meeting Tuesday with a North Korean diplomat ahead of a football match between the two nations that will go on in Pyongyang next month, despite heightened tensions over the hermit state’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

Tunku Ismail Idris Sultan Ibrahim, the crown prince of the Malaysian state of Johor and president of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), was also granted rare airspace access into North Korea as a result of his meeting with Kim Yu Song, the chargé d’affaires at Pyongyang’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur, according to a statement from the prince.

Tunku Ismail and the diplomat tackled foreign affairs issues and discussed the twice-rescheduled Asian Cup qualifier match between Malaysia and North Korea that is now set to be played in Pyongyang on Oct. 5.

The crown prince received “a special honor of being allowed full access to use their airspace to travel from Johor to Pyongyang anytime His Royal Highness wants to visit North Korea,” the statement said. “It is the highest honor, as any other world leader will need to stop by in Beijing” before being able to fly straight to the North Korean capital, it said.

"The discussion bore very positive results whereby a speech from His Royal Highness was passed to North Korea's top leader," the statement said, without elaborating.

Officials from the Malaysian Foreign Ministry declined to comment about the news from the Bukit Serene Palace, the official residence of the Sultan of Johor, where the meeting occurred.

Windsor Paul, secretary-general of the 47-nation Asian Football Confederation (AFC), said he was not sure of the crown prince’s travel plans to Pyongyang, despite the special air access.

“As for the match itself, the Competitions Committee has already decided that the match will go on unless there is a change to the security status in the region which we are monitoring closely,” he told BenarNews late Tuesday.

With four matches remaining, Malaysia needs to finish among the top two teams in Group B to qualify for the 2019 AFC Cup, which will be played in the United Arab Emirates from Jan. 5 to Feb. 1, 2019, according to Bernama, Malaysia’s state news agency.

Malaysia lost 2-1 to Lebanon and only managed a 1-1 draw against Hong Kong in two AFC Cup qualifiers.

The crown prince had earlier expressed fears that players from the national team could be exposed to food poisoning “due to the possibility of sabotage,” if the AFC compelled the Malaysian Tigers to play the match in Pyongyang.

Malaysia is among 10 ASEAN countries that maintain relations with North Korea.

Kuala Lumpur and Pyongyang have had bilateral ties since 1973, but these were strained earlier this year following the assassination on Malaysian soil of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Mounting tensions in Koreas

North Korea’s recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests have raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula and alarm over regional security among members of the international community, including Malaysia.

Last week, the Malaysian government condemned North Korea’s launch of ballistic missiles and expressed dismay over the communist regime’s constant defiance of U.N. sanctions. Kuala Lumpur also urged Pyongyang to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile program.

“Malaysia expresses serious concern that the ballistic missile had yet again traversed the sovereign territory of Japan, posing a direct threat to its national security. Such provocative action further aggravates the existing tensions in the Korean Peninsula and the region,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday.

On Sept. 11, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to boost sanctions against North Korea after Pyongyang’s sixth and largest nuclear test this month. The sanctions, the ninth such resolution adopted against North Korea since 2006, banned textile exports and capped fuel supplies.

Football and politics

The upcoming match initially was to be played in Pyongyang on March 28. But it was postponed to June 8 following security concerns raised by Malaysian officials, amid a diplomatic row that broke out after Kim Jong Nam was killed in a chemical weapon attack at a Kuala Lumpur area airport on Feb. 13.

The row lasted six weeks and saw Malaysia and North Korea expel their respective ambassadors, as well as impose reciprocal exit bans on each other’s citizens. Malaysia’s prime minister also joined South Korea and the United States in blaming North Korean government agents for Kim’s murder.

The row ended in late March, when Malaysia agreed to return Kim’s body to North Korea in exchange for the release of Malaysian embassy staff and their families who had been stranded in Pyongyang as a result of the exit ban. The travel bans have since been lifted.

The Kuala Lumpur-based AFC has re-designated Pyongyang as the playing venue for the final qualifying Group B match, citing the lifting of a travel ban. The match was supposed to be played in Pyongyang on March 28 but Malaysia had asked the sports body that it be played in a neutral setting.

Malaysia could be fined up to $50,000 and face disqualification from future tournaments if it decided to pull out of the North Korean match.

This updated version properly identifies the Crown Prince of Johor.


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