KUALA LUMPUR, March 8 — North Korea’s decision to prohibit Malaysians from leaving the country will not likely lead to war or armed attacks against Malaysia, experts said.
Christoph Bluth, a professor of international relations and security at UK’s University of Bradford, said North Korea’s actions were a serious breach of international laws requiring urgent action at the United Nations (UN).
“I don’t think it will lead to war because Malaysia cannot and should not attack North Korea. But it is a serious crisis and may engage the major powers,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted yesterday.
Following the February 13 assassination of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia, the souring ties between the two countries saw both expelling the other’s ambassador.
North Korea yesterday abruptly said it will temporarily bar Malaysians there from leaving the country, causing Malaysia to reciprocate by banning North Koreans here from leaving and by sealing off the North Korean embassy here, where several suspects in Jong-nam’s murder were allegedly hiding.
Asri Salleh, a local academic who specialises in international relations, said the two nations were merely going through a “normal diplomatic crisis”, which would be best resolved through diplomatic means.
Noting that Malaysia had later restored ties with Pakistan after severing it once in 1965, Asri also said the current North Korea-Malaysia crisis will likely be protracted and take months to subside, but will not turn into armed conflict.
“This wouldn’t lead to war or anything of its kind. War, let alone missile attack, is highly improbable,” the senior lecturer at Universiti Teknologi Mara’s (UiTM) told Malay Mail Online when contacted yesterday.
Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia’s Shahriman Lockman said North Korea’s travel ban was not an act of war.
He added that he does not foresee Malaysians in North Korea suffering any personal harm beyond restrictions in their movement, citing North Korea’s statement that Malaysians there will be able to work and live normally under the same previous conditions.
“This indicates that they are trying to calibrate the potential repercussions — they also have to think about how other countries with diplomats and citizens in North Korea would react,” the senior analyst at ISIS Malaysia’s foreign policy and security studies programme told Malay Mail Online when contacted.
While the Malaysian government should be on guard for the possibility of cyberattacks along the lines of the 2014 Sony Pictures attack, Shahriman believed there would not be military attacks against Malaysia.
“The risks of this escalating to something more serious remains remote. North Korea’s military power is reserved for its chief security concerns: South Korea, the United States, Japan and increasingly China.
“They know that if they ever use it, that would only precipitate responses in which they would be on the losing end. North Korea might appear unhinged but they are actually highly rational,” he said.
Former Malaysian diplomat Datuk Hamzah Majid believed North Korea’s travel ban would, at most, likely lead to a hostage situation, instead of a war with Malaysia.
“No, I won’t go that far. It could lead to a hostage situation and let’s hope it doesn’t lead to that and let’s hope cooler heads will prevail in North Korea. Because what they are doing is against international laws, they shouldn’t do that,” the former Malaysian Chargé d’Affaires in South Vietnam’s Saigon in the 1960s told Malay Mail Online yesterday.