KUALA LUMPUR, March 6 — Malaysia does not stand to lose much by expelling North Korean ambassador Kang Chol, analysts said.
Academic Oh Ei Sun believed Malaysia would suffer negligible loss either in terms of business, or in progress in investigations of the murder here of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's half brother Kim Jong-nam.
"Next to nothing, as our trade volume with North Korea is minuscule at best, and they are not only not cooperating in the investigations but are actually trying actively to sabotage it," the adjunct senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University told Malay Mail Online today.
He called Kang's expulsion "a very serious diplomatic gesture in declaring our displeasure over the conducts of North Korea and of its ambassador here", indicating that such actions can sometimes precede the cutting of ties between two nations.
"It can be, but not necessarily so, a precursor to the severing of overall diplomatic ties," Oh said.
Kang left the embassy here this afternoon and checked in on a flight from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing, China.
Shahriman Lockman, a senior analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia, said it would be the "internationally isolated" North Korea that would feel the pinch instead of Malaysia.
"The business deals do not count for much for Malaysia. On the contrary, there are inherent costs and risks to trading with North Korea given the amount of inspections that need to be done by our law enforcement agencies to ensure that UN sanctions aren’t broken," he told Malay Mail Online when contacted yesterday.
"The North Koreans aren’t showing any inclination to genuinely cooperate with the investigations anyway. I wouldn’t be surprised if the North Korea second secretary who is wanted for questioning by the police is eventually expelled as well," he said, referring to Hyon Kwang-song.
Hyon, who has diplomatic immunity, is one of the seven North Korean male suspects sought by local police for a probe into Jong-nam's February 13 murder. An arrest warrant has been issued against North Korea's national carrier Air Koryo employee Kim Uk-il to aid in investigations.
Four other North Korean men reportedly left the country the same day of the murder, while North Korean Ri Jong-chol was released due to lack of evidence and was deported last Friday.
Shahriman said the expulsion of Kang "effectively amounts to a downgrade in relations to below the ambassadorial level", adding that he did not think Malaysia would be inclined to send its recently-recalled ambassador back to North Korea.
Although Kang's expulsion is a highly symbolic move, it comes with practical consequences, Shahriman said.
"In the status-conscious world of diplomacy, rank counts for a lot. An ambassador would naturally have better access to senior people in the host nation. You simply get more things done with an ambassador than you would with a lower-ranking diplomat," he said.
Academic Ooi Kee Beng noted that an expulsion of an ambassador was always meant to show displeasure either with the person or with the country the ambassador represented, similarly saying that Malaysia would not lose out from expelling Kang.
"In his case, the lack of respect shown to Malaysia by the ambassador was probably the reason behind the need Malaysia felt to make an example of him.
"I doubt Malaysia has much to lose, but balancing between a show of sovereignty and an avoidance of an excessive reaction is how one would manage a situation like this," the deputy director of Singapore's ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute told Malay Mail Online today.
Last Saturday, Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said Wisma Putra was declaring Kang as "persona non grata", or a "person not appreciated", who was barred from entering and remaining in Malaysia, with Kang given 48 hours from 6pm that day to leave.
His expulsion followed North Korea's missing of a deadline to apologise for its defamatory accusations against Malaysia over Jong-nam's murder, as well as his failure to appear after being summoned by Malaysia's Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Aside from Kang's expulsion, Putrajaya scrapped from today onwards the visa-free entry privilege previously enjoyed by North Korean citizens, due to concern that the latter may have used Malaysia for illegal activities.