Visa-FREE travel makes for ease of business and tourism, the two reasons why countries have such bilateral arrangements. The economic rationale is the imperative. However, the arrangement can give cause for concern because criminal intent can mean abuse, as in the recent murder of a North Korean national at klia2. The masterminds, according to police are fellow countrymen of the deceased. That North Koreans can enter the country easily is because of the visa-free arrangement that Malaysia has with North Korea, albeit it works both ways. Malaysians, too, can walk into North Korea hassle free.
But, as of yesterday, this privilege has been withdrawn. Effective Monday, North Koreans wishing to enter Malaysia will have to apply for a visa. Malaysia was one of the few countries in the world that allowed easy access to the citizens of the secretive, nuclear-armed state. It is not yet known of North Korea’s response, but it would be of no surprise, or a big loss, if it chose to reciprocate. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi cited national security concerns, and rightly so, considering North Korea’s non-cooperation in the murder investigation and its reluctance to provide information on the seven suspects involved, including a senior official in the North Korean embassy. Zahid had warned North Korean diplomats not to take advantage of Malaysia’s hospitality, and to not “make this country a platform” for its national agenda.
Indeed, Malaysia is not amused by the antics of the North Korean ambassador and his team.
When weighing against the diplomatic row between North Korea and Malaysia over the murder, it is certainly not worth Malaysia’s while to continue with the visa arrangement. Malaysia’s trade with North Korea accounts for only 0.02 per cent of the country’s total annual trade. That is miniscule. And, given the reclusive nature of the regime and its many restrictions on its population, there is very little likelihood that North Korean visitors are going to do much for Malaysia’s economy. Overall, there is little going for Malaysia to maintain visa free travel with North Korea when little appreciation is demonstrated.
Indeed, if the country concerned was China, Japan, the United States or Canada, then visa-free travel is a boon for Malaysia. These are advanced, high-income economies that Malaysia trades with, and visitors from these countries are encouraged as they bring in the much needed foreign exchange. Long-stay foreigners, like students and workers, meanwhile, do not fall under visa-free travel; specific permits exists for their purpose.
The disregard for diplomatic protocol by North Korea to Malaysia is simply appalling. Now, North Korea is maintaining that the body in the morgue is Kim Chol, as stated in his passport, and not the estranged half-brother of the country’s leader. Hence, ending the visa-free travel between the two countries is only wise and prudent, not least for national security reasons, but that there is no compelling economic reasons to facilitate unhindered travel.