Malaysia, North Korea ties run deep

Malaysia, North Korea ties run deep

Malaysia has emerged as a stomping ground for North Koreans as well as a venue for unofficial talks between Pyongyang and Washington

The killing of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half brother in Malaysia puts a spotlight on a US ally that has emerged in recent years as a stomping ground for North Koreans and a venue for unofficial talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

With business connections, relatively lax travel restrictions and even a direct air connection for several years, Malaysia is more closely linked to the reclusive North than many other countries with friendly ties to the US

Unlike America, Japan and South Korea, Malaysia generally has reasonably friendly relations with North Korea, giving citizens of the isolated nation a chance to mix with the outside world.

Half-brother of N Korean leader assassinated in Malaysia

Malaysian citizens are allowed visa-free travel to the country, while North Korea buys rubber, palm oil and other raw materials from the country. Malaysia, meanwhile, imports iron and steel products.

In 2011, direct flights by North Korea's flagship carrier, Air Koryo, began operating between Pyongyang and Kuala Lumpur, though that route was discontinued in mid-2014 after a new round of United Nations Security Council sanctions against the country.

There are also plenty of business ties between the two countries, according to Christopher Green, a researcher in North Korean studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who estimates that the North Korean community in Kuala Lumpur probably runs into the hundreds of people.

"There certainly is more freedom for North Koreans to come and go. This has been the case for several years," Mr. Green said. "It has been a popular place for North Korea to do business."

There were 80 North Korean nationals working in the construction and mining industry in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, according to a Malaysian government report filed to the United Nations in August last year.

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OTHER WSJ.COM STORIES:

- North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un’s Brother Killed in Malaysia

- Malaysia Arrests Female Suspect in Death of Kim Jong Un’s Brother

- North Korean Defector Says Kim Jong Un Can’t Last

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