KUALA LUMPUR, March 19 — Malaysia-North Korea ties began as early as 1973 and had seen notable achievements in the diplomatic and trade front, until Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of North Korean Supreme leader Kim Jong-un, was assassinated on Malaysian soil in 2017.

The killing of Jong-nam with VX nerve agent appears to be the turning point for the relations between both sides that started on a good note.

Following the incident, there was a fallout as the North Korean side opposed strongly the autopsy findings and that it was conducted without its permission. Malaysia stood its ground that Jong-nam’s death happened in Malaysia and it has the right to investigate and take action. Sharp exchanges were noted between both sides, with ambassador Kang Chol expelled following his provocative remarks.

Though Malaysia recalled its ambassador and suspended embassy operations in Pyongyang and the North Korean Embassy here operated without the ambassador, diplomatic ties were still on – though downgraded.

However, the Kuala Lumpur High Court’s decision early this month on the extradition of North Korean businessman Mun Chol Myong prompted Pyongyang to sever ties with Malaysia as reported today by the international media.        

Timeline of important events in KL-Pyongyang relations:

1974 – North Korea opens its embassy in Kuala Lumpur

1995 – Malaysia hosted talks between North Korea and the United States over the former’s nuclear programme.

2004 – Malaysia opens its embassy in Pyongyang

2009 – Beginning of greater engagement between Malaysian and North Korea. Malaysians allowed to travel to North Korea without visa, rise in North Korean imports from Malaysia, North Koreans arrive in Malaysia for work, Air Koryo started flights to Kuala Lumpur.

2017 – Feb 13, Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s half brother was assassinated at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). 

2017 – March 4, North Korean Ambassador Kang Chol was declared a persona non grata and expelled within 48 hours for disparaging the murder investigation; two days later, visa free entry for North Koreans revoked.

2017 – March 7, North Korea stopped all nine Malaysians in the country from leaving. Malaysia reacted by forbidding North Koreans from entering or leaving the country.

2017 – March 30, all stranded Malaysians and North Koreans allowed to return to their respective countries following negotiations and the return of Jong-nam’s body.

2018 – June 12, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was quoted as saying that Malaysia would reopen its embassy in Pyongyang and end the diplomatic row. However, there was no change in the status quo. 

2021 – March 9,  Kuala Lumpur High Court rejects North Korean businessman Mun Chol Myong’s appeal from being extradited to the United States on money laundering charges. 

2021 – March 19, Pyongyang announces it will end diplomatic ties with Kuala Lumpur due to the court’s decision.

2021 – March 19, Malaysia responded, saying it deeply regrets North Korea’s decision and denounced it as unfriendly and unconstructive, disrespecting the spirit of mutual respect and good neighbourly relations among members of the international community. Malaysia said it will also issue an order for all the diplomatic staff and their dependents at the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur to leave the country within 48 hours.


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