Malaysia may close its embassy in North Korea and move the mission’s duties to the Chinese capital amid regional security concerns over Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile testing program, Prime Minister Najib Razak told parliament on Monday.
He said Malaysia’s government was also re-evaluating bilateral diplomatic ties with Pyongyang that have lasted since 1973 but were rocked by the February 2017 assassination on Malaysian soil of the half-brother of North Korea’s dictator.
“We are reviewing our links to North Korea including diplomatic, political and economic relations,” Najib said. “Malaysia is also considering closing our embassy in Pyongyang and moving it to Beijing.”
Najib was responding to a parliamentarian’s question about issues that the prime minister had discussed with U.S. President Donald Trump during an official visit to Washington on Sept. 12.
“Among issues we discussed was the situation in the Korean Peninsula, where both nations raised concerns over the peace and security of the Asia Pacific region which is under threat following North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missiles testing,” Najib said.
He added that the government had also introduced a policy to require North Korean nationals to obtain visas in order to enter Malaysia. Until a diplomatic row broke out between the two countries over the Feb. 13 killing of Kim Jong Nam at a Kuala Lumpur area airport, North Koreans were allowed to enter Malaysia without a visa.
Two Southeast Asian women – an Indonesian and a Vietnamese – are on trial in Malaysia over murder charges for allegedly smearing Kim Jong Nam’s face with the deadly VX nerve agent.
The government, Najib said, started considering closing its embassy in Pyongyang after a diplomatic row erupted following the airport assassination.
Foreign Minister Anifah Aman had previously said that Malaysia had no plans to send an ambassador to Pyongyang again, after the last diplomat was recalled during the height of the diplomatic row.
The row saw Malaysia and North Korea expel their respective ambassadors and impose mutual exit bans on each other’s citizens, among other tense moments in a crisis that lasted six weeks. Malaysia also cancelled the visa-free privilege for North Koreans entering Malaysia.
The dispute ended in late March when Malaysia agreed to exchange Kim’s body, along with two North Koreans who were initially wanted for questioning by police in connection with the murder, for nine Malaysians who were trapped in Pyongyang for weeks because of the exit ban.
Najib’s comments came days ahead of a two-leg Asian Cup qualifying football match between Malaysia and North Korea, which will be hosted by Thailand on Nov. 10 and Nov. 13.
The first leg of the match was originally scheduled for March 28 in Pyongyang, but it was postponed repeatedly as a result of the diplomatic clash that followed the assassination.
The Pyongyang leg was postponed a third time in late September after Malaysia banned its citizens from travelling to the North Korean capital, citing heightened security concerns on the Korean Peninsula.