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Nerve agents, missiles, murder abroad and other N. Korean threats

Security watchers worry if Asia is safe from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Their fears are captured in commentaries in Asia News Network papers, excerpted below:

Reassessing Pyongyang's threat to Asean

Gilang Kembara The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

Within the space of a month, two separate incidents perpetrated by North Korea have alerted many nations within the Asia-Pacific region.

The assassination of Mr Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of North Korea's supreme leader, allegedly by Vietnamese and Indonesian nationals at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, caused confusion and disbelief.

All throughout last month, the Indonesian media was filled with news about how Siti Aisyah, an Indonesian citizen, was allegedly duped into assassinating Mr Kim.

Added to that were the two missile launches conducted by the North last month and this month, the latest of which saw four ballistic missiles being tested. This escalation has certainly raised the question: How relevant is the threat from North Korea to Asean security?

The KL incident has led to Malaysia withdrawing its ambassador to North Korea and the expulsion of North Korea's ambassador to Malaysia, as well as the cancellation of visa-free facilities for North Koreans entering Malaysia.

The biggest security issue that comes out of this incident are the indications that Mr Kim might have been killed using the highly lethal VX nerve agent, a substance that is banned by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

This highlights fears that the proliferation of chemical weapons is possible, and the possibility that such weapons might be used by non-state actors with or without the consent of any state.

Although Pyongyang is denying the use of the VX nerve agent in the death of Mr Kim, North Korea is known to maintain as much as 5,000 tonnes of lethal agents, including VX, sarin, mustard gas, tabun and hydrogen cyanide.


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervising a ballistic rocket launching drill. The four ballistic missiles the country launched recently towards Japan may have a short range, says a writer, but imagine them aboard any of the North's ballistic missile submarines, and positioned within the South China Sea or Philippine Sea, or making their way into Indonesia's Sulawesi or Banda seas: They would be in range of each of Asean's 10 member states. PHOTO: REUTERS

Furthermore, the North's chemical programme, which translates into its attempt to create an indigenous weapon of mass destruction, has seen an upsurge in its weapons testing programme.

Beginning early last year, a series of missile tests, an underground hydrogen bomb test and a subsequent submarine missile launch, have led one United States official to comment that "North Korea's sub-launch capability has gone from a joke to something very serious".

If indeed North Korea is able to acquire the capability to launch not only land-based ballistic missiles but also submarine-based ones, then there is an imminent need for Asean states to reassess the threat that is generated by the country.

Its recent provocative launch of four ballistic missiles simultaneously towards Japan signals the increasing pace of the North's weapons development.

It may be that the missiles launched are only short-range in nature. But imagine those missiles aboard any of North Korea's newly manufactured ballistic missile submarines, and positioned within the South China Sea or Philippine Sea, or making their way into Indonesia's Sulawesi or Banda seas: They would be in range of each of Asean's 10 member states.

Asean must not continue to dismiss lightly North Korea's missile capability. Furthermore, it should not believe that the threat is posed only to South Korea, Japan or US interests in the Asia-Pacific, but should also start to assess the lengths that North Korea will go to solidify its rule.

If the assassination of Mr Kim teaches us anything, it is that North Korea, or specifically its leader Kim Jong Un, is willing to go to certain lengths in imposing its iron fist upon dissidents, critics, or anyone who stands in its way.Its leader is willing to trespass upon the sovereignty of a nation and even utilise a chemical weapon.

Asean needs to wake up and realise that the threat from North Korea is nothing short of a regional security issue.

Boost trilateral deterrence

Editorial The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

North Korea's latest action has added even more to its missile threat. It is imperative for three nations - Japan, the United States and South Korea - to maintain their close cooperation in increasing their deterrence.

The North launched four ballistic missiles from an area in its north-west nearly simultaneously, sending them in the direction of the Sea of Japan. Three of the missiles fell into waters in Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

It was the third time that North Korean missiles have fallen into the EEZ, the last occasion being last September.

The North's missile launches are an extremely dangerous provocation, which could cause damage to fishing boats and others. Its conduct is an obvious violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution, and it cannot be tolerated by any means.

The latest missile launches seem to have been intended to counter a US-South Korea joint military exercise that started last week. On March 2, the North Korean military threatened to "stand up (to the military exercise) with ultra-strong countermeasures".

The North is accelerating its development of missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. In a New Year address delivered this year, Mr Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, dared to say that his country was "in the final stage" of preparations for test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Last month, North Korea tested a new type of ballistic missile. It is believed that the test used a solid-fuel engine and a mobile launch pad, both of which can make it difficult to detect signs of a launch.

There should be no denying that the country is improving its missile technology through its repeated missile launches, including its sneak-attack capability and direct-hit accuracy.

The joint military exercise will continue through the end of next month. No efforts should be spared to exercise vigilance against a possible North Korean attempt to further carry out military provocations.

It is important for Japan to work on the improvement and expansion of its ability to cope with a ballistic missile launch. The main pillar of this endeavour is to strengthen our nation's missile defence capability.

The idea of making the Self-Defence Forces capable of attacking an enemy base using such weapons as a cruise missile should also be seriously considered.

Cooperation among Japan, the US and South Korea is the most effective and realistic option for confronting the North, which is attempting to rattle the international community by hinting at a nuclear missile attack.

North's actions in total disregard of international laws

Editorial The Star, Malaysia

The diplomatic row between Malaysia and North Korea has escalated to a previously unthinkable level, with Pyongyang's move to ban all Malaysian Embassy staff from leaving the country, effectively holding them hostage.

The decision to stop them from leaving was unexpected and in total disregard of international law and rules on diplomacy. This is proof of the North's unpredictability.

The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations speaks only of freedom of movement and travel in the territory of the host state, except for those areas where it is prohibited for security reasons.

Article 30 of the Convention says a diplomat's private residence and embassy are inviolable, which means these places are considered sovereign territory of the diplomat's home state.

Prime Minister Najib Razak cut short his working visit to Jakarta to convene an emergency meeting of the National Security Council to secure the release of Malaysians trapped in Pyongyang.

Malaysians are united in praying for the safety of their fellow citizens who have been caught up in the diplomatic stand-off and have unwittingly become pawns.

Protecting the safety and security of Malaysians should now be the government's top priority.

•The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 news media entities. For more, see www.asianews.network

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2017, with the headline 'Nerve agents, missiles, murder abroad and other N. Korean threats'. Print Edition | Subscribe