Ever since Kim Jong-nam’s assassination on Malaysian soil, Malaysia’s previously-good relationship with North Korea has been fermenting to the point of kimchi. We figure you’d already know the details behind the assassination and how the relationship broke down by now, so we’ll just skip to the current situation where North Korea is holding Malaysia responsible for the death of one of its citizens while blaming the US and South Korea for the assassination and accusing us of fabricating the evidence.
“The biggest responsibility for his death rests with the government of Malaysia as the citizen of the DPRK died in its land.” – KCNA (North Korean news agency), as quoted by Reuters.
While we’ve had disagreements with other countries over islands (The Philippines), Rohingya (Burma), and even food origins (Singapore); our tiff with North Korea is somewhat of somewhat greater concern because North Korea doesn’t play by most international conventions or rules – which is why they’ve been sanctioned by most of the world’s governments. This also makes it kinda scary because there’s no telling what they might do next:
“You can’t really rule anything out … It’s just so unpredictable, it’s hard to know what the North Koreans are going to do.” – Steve Hall, former CIA chief, as quoted by CNN
So we did a little poking about and found 5 things North Korea might potentially do to us if things go further south, but before that we’re first gonna clear up a couple things – the first being that writing about what might happen doesn’t mean we want it happen.
And the second is that there’s overwhelming evidence that North Korea doesn’t abide by many international laws including nuclear weapons testing and human rights, so we’re not playing into Uncle Sam’s red white and blue hands 🙄
The fact is that it’s completely normal (and important!) to assess threats whether or not they might happen to be, y’know, prepared. Even our Defence Ministry is doing it (more on that later) so you might wanna forward your complaints there first. In any case, here are the five possible threats Malaysia might encounter from North Korea, ranked from least likely to most likely.
5. North Korea might fire missiles into Maraysia – with nukes o.0″
So straight off the top, according to Nuclear Threat Initiative, a neutral organization that works with governments to assess and control weapons of mass destruction, North Korea can produce weapons-grade plutonium. And of course, they definitely have missiles – in fact they have like, 7 missiles which can travel up to 12,000km:
Considering that the distance between Pyongyang and Kuala Lumpur is less than 5,000km, this means that Taepodongs are more than capable of making their way here. Although the potential devastation from being hit with missile would be particularly, well, devastating; it’s also a threat that’s least likely to happen.
This is due to a number of reasons, but we’ll focus on some of the more major ones. The first is that this incident, though diplomatically damaging, isn’t bad enough to warrant them launching any missiles at us. The case in point is that North Korea’s biggest beef has always been South Korea and the US, but no missiles launched at them either.
Of course, you can argue that it’s because these countries have enough firepower to level Pyongyang in retaliation. In contrast, our Defense Ministry openly said that we may not have the capabilities to take on North Korea in a full-out war – but we have allies in other countries that we can depend on to help. This is because a nuke launch doesn’t work like in video games… it actually takes a few hours to a full day to prep for a launch, and North Korea is being closely watched by at least South Korea, America, and Japan:
“Very quickly after the North Koreans carry out a test, there are statements from the US and Japan about whether the test was successful or not, and that’s because they’ve been monitoring the entire thing, even when the North Koreans do a surprise test…” – Rodger Baker, Lead North Korea Analyst at Stratfor, as quoted by Vice.
So the idea is that someone would come in to stop the launch before it happens, or at the very least help us shoot it down (hopefully). Special thanks to Zulhafiz who schooled us on the difference between ICBM and cruise missiles 🙂
The second reason is that no one really knows for sure if a North Korean missile will actually be able to reach Maraysia. While they’ve always been the laughing stock for failed launches, defense analysts have said that their capabilities have significantly improved over the last few years to actually prove a threat, as possibly evidenced by their recent rocket test that landed in Japanese territory. To give an analogy of what this means, North Korea is kinda like your motorhead friend who claims he can drive down from Genting Highlands in 10 minutes. There’s a pretty high chance he’ll fail, but it’s also possible he might actually make it. And sorry, we meant “Malaysia”. That was a typo-dong.
4. North Korea might use chemical or biological weapons in Malaysia
According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, North Korea has access to both chemical and biological weapons including mustard (not the condiment), sarin, smallpox, and anthrax; with the estimated capacity to manufacture up to 12,000 tons of chemical weapons a year.
Our local authorities determined that Kim Jong-nam was killed with a banned nerve agent called VX – which was also featured in The Rock starring Nicholas Cage. But death aside, what makes VX really dangerous is it’s persistence and ability to stick around – kinda like Nicolas Cage’s career.
It’s also versatile enough to be used in liquid and gas forms, meaning it can be sprayed in the air or put into food or water supplies. VX is also related to sarin, which was last used by a Japanese cult in a Tokyo subway in 1995, which left 12 people dead and temporarily blinding 5,000 others. It’s also a rather painful experience:
“One man was thrashing around on the floor like a fish out of water.” – Nobuo Serizawa, Photographer, as quoted by TIME.
While it cannot be 100% confirmed that VX was used (Pyongyang officially denies it), some experts think that it would set a dangerous precedent if they did, because this would be the first time VX was used for political assassination, and it means that they could very well use it again. This kinda brings us to the next point, which is…
3. North Korea could totally send spies into Malaysia to cause havoc
Again, IF North Korea really used VX to assassinate Kim Jong-nam, the next obvious question would be how they managed to get the stuff into the country in the first place. There are two likely ways this might have happened – the first is that an embassy official smuggled it in using the diplomatic pouch (North Korean officials have a history of smuggling contraband using this method), and the second – scarier – possibility is that it could have been made in Malaysia as police found the suspected substance in a condo unit along Old Klang Road.
North Korea also has a history of carrying out assassinations in foreign countries – a couple of notable ones being:
- The attempted assassination of the South Korean president with a bomb in Yangon, Myanmar that killed 21 people 1983
- Bombing of a Korea Airlines plane flying from Baghdad to Seoul that killed 115 people in 1987. More on this later.
- The storming of the South Korean President’s residence by 31 North Korean commandos in 1968.
But what are the odds of there being North Korean agents in Malaysia? Probably higher than you think.
“They produce people with real jobs and skills and send them abroad with family to live … When an urgent opportunity arises like this one on Kim Jong Nam, those people are tapped into operation, so they would be planted way before hand.” – Jang Jin-sung, Defected North Korean espionage agency worker, as quoted by Reuters.
In a previous article, we talked about Pyongyang Koryo, a North Korean restaurant chain with an outlet in KL. While you might have seen it (or maybe even dined there), what you may not know is that it’s actually an international chain owned by the North Korean government and, according to defectors, waitresses are trained in intelligence gathering while the restaurants themselves are used as a base of operation for North Korean spies. Not just that, it’s also been discovered that the North Korean agents openly operated a company selling military equipment (with website and all) right smack in the middle of KL.
But if you think it’s gonna be easy spotting a North Korean spy, you might wanna reconsider because….
2. North Korea might start kidnapping Malaysians (again?)
From this header, you might think we’re referring to the Malaysian embassy staff in Pyongyang that have been prevented from leaving following the Kim Jong-nam incident.
But really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg – North Korea has been kidnapping Malaysians for a while now.
This actually started in the 1950’s when Kim Il-sung came out with a totally weird plan to kidnap people to repopulate North Korea. This plan was later expanded by Kim Jong-il to kidnap people of certain nationalities in order to use their passports and train spies how to speak and act like locals and – oddly enough – develop their film industry. A famous South Korean director and his actress wife were kidnapped in Hong Kong under Kim-Jong-il’s direct orders and forced to make movies for 8 years before escaping.
At the height of the kidnappings in the 70’s and 80’s, Japanese citizens were the prime target because the Japanese passport is accepted virtually anywhere in the world. Remember that Korea Airlines bombing we mentioned above? Both spies were caught and chomped down on a cyanide capsule to commit suicide. However, Kim Hyun-hui survived and, after many years, finally revealed details of her life as a North Korean spy. She said she was trained to speak and act like a Japanese for three years by Yaego Taguchi, a Japanese woman who was kidnapped from her home in Northern Japan. In order to carry out the bombing, Kim and her partner posed as a Japanese father and daughter on an European tour.
The only documented kidnapping of Malaysians by North Korea happened in 1978, where 5 women (4 Malaysian and 1 Singaporean) working for an escort agency were kidnapped after boarding a “boat party” held by a “Japanese businessman” in Singapore. As a plot twist, the Japanese businessman may have also kidnapped 2 Chinese women in Macau using the same trick. Charles Jenkins, a US soldier who defected to North Korea (and re-defected back) claims to have seen one of the kidnapped Malaysians in Pyongyang in the 80’s.
But what Charles Jenkins also revealed was that foreigners were frequently paired up for marriage with local soldiers or even among themselves (He married a Japanese abductee). When his daughters were born, he soon realized that Pyongyang intended to train them to be spies – in what he suspects is part of a “breeding program” to raise a new generation of North Korean agents who don’t look Korean.
“If I had stayed in North Korea, my daughters would be in South Korea right now as spies.” – Charles Robert Jenkins, as quoted by The Atlantic.
1. North Korea might cripple Malaysia’s internet!!!!
Yup. This is actually the threat with the highest odds of happening. Although memes like the one above poke fun at North Korea’s technological capabilities, the truth is that North Korean has been extensively training hackers to wreak havoc on the internet for decades, via a cyberwarfare department called Bureau 121.
North Korea has been implicated in several high-profile hacks, including the 2014 Sony Pictures hack (allegedly in retaliation for the movie making fun of Kim Jong-un), a $81 million cyber-heist from Bangladesh’s Central Bank in 2016, and a very recent campaign targeting organizations across 31 countries. Just so you know, several Malaysian organizations (including CIMB bank) are already on high alert to look out for any potential cyberattacks from North Korea.
But what really puts this as No. 1 on our list is the fact that the US National Security Agency (NSA) discovered that North Korean hackers accessed the internet through Malaysia. In another report from Bernama, a source revealed that there are a number of North Korean agents working as IT specialists in Cyberjaya to “help them gather information and data internally“.
“These are not ordinary people because they are specially trained before being selected by the regime to work abroad. While being sponsored by local companies, their presence in Malaysia are not just to work but also (to function) as trained spies.” – Unidentified source, as quoted by Bernama via ChannelNewsAsia.
While a banking hack might be potentially damaging to to the economy (and maybe your Lazada purchases), what makes this really scary is that North Korea has also been accused of hacking into South Korea’s subway and nuclear power plant operators.
On the bright side, it’s a good thing Malaysia doesn’t have a nuclear power plant? 😕
But in all likelihood, Malaysia should be pretty safe
All being said and done, the most severe consequence of this whole hooplaboopla would be that Malaysians will now have to strike out North Korea as a holiday destination. The government is already in diplomatic talks with Pyongyang over the incident, which is apparently going pretty well.
But just to soothe any fears that you might have of an all-out attack on Malaysian soil, we would point out again that North Korea isn’t completely crazy because there are other countries at play here – countries that would most likely intervene at the soonest indication that a missile is about to be launched, or a military force is dispatched for an attack:
“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.” – Shahriman Lockman, Senior Analyst at Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia, as quoted by Malay Mail Online.
But in any case, mayhaps you might wanna withdraw all your money and keep it under a mattress for the time being (j/k).