Tuesday 7 March, 2017 Update: North Korea & Malaysia Impose Travel Bans

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International relations generally incorporate the major elements of a very successful soap opera. There is drama, action, and betrayal ad nauseam, the forming and breaking of alliances for strategic purposes, and occasionally a dash of comedy is added to the mixture. The ongoing squabble between North Korea and Malaysia contains every one of the abovementioned ingredients, and as in any good soap opera, the plot is growing steadily over time.

The latest installment of the crisis came earlier today when North Korea barred all Malaysian residents currently in North Korea from leaving the country. Malaysia responded by extending the travel ban on North Korean embassy officials to cover all North Korean citizens in the country. At present, there are eleven Malaysian citizens in North Korea. Nine of these are embassy staff members and their family members. The other two are working with the World Food Program. The number of North Koreans in Malaysia is not known, however, the Associated Press estimates there are roughly 1,000. Both countries have already declared each other’s ambassadors to be persona non grata, essentially a civil way of kicking a top diplomat out of the country. North Korea released a statement saying that Malaysians were barred from leaving the country until there is a ‘fair settlement’ between the two governments over the death of Kim Jung Nam.

All of this activity stems from the murder of the North Korean leader’s half-brother in Kuala Lumpur three weeks ago. Malaysia accused North Korean agents of planning and executing the assassination and using VX, a nerve agent, as the weapon. The incident led to a tailspin of accusations, counter-accusations, diplomatic rhetoric, a criminal investigation….and now this. Malaysia and North Korea have historically enjoyed good relations. To be accurate, Malaysia has been one of North Korea’s best friends on the international stage. Those relations have frozen amid the current diplomatic standoff and the possibility of a complete diplomatic breakdown looms in the near future.

*Author’s note- The article on Rebuilding the USAF has been pushed off to next week in light of recent events in the Western Pacific. The focus for the rest of the week will be on what is happening there. *

Monday 27 February, 2017 Update: US-North Korean Talks Cancelled

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For a man who rules what is arguably the most isolated nation-state in the world, Kim Jong Un certainly has a penchant for attention. His actions and words seem crafted and timed specifically to attract a generous fraction of the world’s focus. North Korean missile tests produce headlines across the world, as well as producing high amounts of anxiety in places like Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington DC. Rumors of Jong Un’s opponents…real and imagined… having been purged from the government or executed outright both fascinates and repulses a global audience.  When it comes to events in Asia, whether they be economic, geopolitical, social, or military, there is always a ‘North Korean angle’ to consider. North Korea has been desperately seeking attention and recognition for the better part of the last twenty years. Unfortunately for it, the attention it has received has been overwhelmingly negative.

Pyongyang had an opportunity to perhaps change that trend in the near future. Informal talks had been scheduled to take place later this week in New York City between North Korean government representatives and a delegation of former US officials with expertise on North Korea. Plans were in motion and a limited level of guarded optimism was growing that the talks could provide an opportunity for both sides to determine if some form of diplomatic middle ground exists for both sides to build from. Although the talks would probably not result in anything grand, it would be a start.

But then North Korean agents arranged and carried out a hit on Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half brother of North Korea’s current leader, likely on the orders of Un. The incident occurred at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on 13 February, 2017. To make matters even worse, the North Koreans used VX nerve agent, a very effective and deadly chemical weapon. So, to summarize, not only did North Korean agents carry out a murder in a foreign country, they used a weapon of mass destruction as the murder weapon. The Malaysian government made the announcement on Friday that VX was found to be used in the attack. North Korea denies this, of course. In the hours after the Malaysian announcement was made, the US decided to deny a visa to Choe Son-hui, the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s director-general on North American affairs. This cancelled the scheduled talks and most likely put them on the back burner permanently.

During the 2016 US presidential campaign, President Trump said he would be open to meeting with Kim Jong Un at some point, though he admitted the chances of an actual meeting were slim. With the new glut of negative attention North Korea is receiving from the Malaysian incident, the likelihood of frank discussions between the US and North Korea is very low. This hurts Pyongyang especially hard as China is about to make an attempt to persuade the US to hold talks with North Korea.

Now, instead of making progress finding some common ground with the US, Pyongyang finds itself weathering another storm of its own making, and defiantly denying accusations of its involvement in the Malaysian incident despite a growing mountain of evidence that suggests otherwise.