N Korea likely to retaliate on visa-free removal, experts say

North Korea is likely to revoke Malaysia's visa-free travel status in a tit-for-tat move following Malaysia's decision to impose a new visa application process for North Korean visitors, say experts.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) senior lecturer Dr Hoo Chiew Ping, who is an expert on North Korea, said it is "highly likely" that the country would retaliate by revoking Malaysia's visa-free travel.

UKM deputy director Dr Sufian Jusof, who specialises in international and economic law, agreed but added that it is not a loss for Malaysia as independent travel is not allowed within North Korea.

"Malaysians have visa-free entry but it is not really free because we have to go through a tour group. North Koreans do not need to go through an organised tour to come to Malaysia."

"So although we might call it visa-free, it is not really free," he said.

Read also: N Korea fires unidentified projectile from near missile base: S Korea

Universiti Malaya (UM) senior lecturer Dr Geetha Govindasamy said she also expects that the North Koreans will get even in some form, though it remains to be seen what action will be taken.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced earlier this week that Malaysia was cancelling North Korea's visa-free entry to Malaysia, citing "national security reasons."

The move came as diplomatic relations between the two countries soured following the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Read also: Visa requirement for N. Koreans the right move, say analysts

He was killed after two women splashed a chemical on his face at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2) departure hall on Feb 13.

The two women, Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong and Indonesian Siti Aisyah, have been charged with the murder under Section 302 of the Penal Code, which carries the mandatory death penalty upon conviction.

North Korea has criticised how Malaysia has investigated the murder and has accused it of being part of a conspiracy, leading to Wisma Putra declaring its ambassador Kang Chol persona non grata and giving him until March 6 to leave the country.

Malaysia is the only country North Korea has fully opened its doors to. In 2009, Malaysian passport holders became the only visitors who could travel to the country without a visa for up to 30 days.

Similarly, North Koreans travelling to Malaysia were given visa-free entry. This will change starting March 6, when the new visa application process is gazetted.

The new measure will not have an immediate impact on the 1,000-odd North Koreans currently living in Malaysia. They reportedly work in coalmines, restaurants, and trading companies.

Read also: Privilege and peril for North Korea's first family

"Those who are working here have work permits and won't have any problems.

"The problem will arise once their work permits expire, and (depend on) whether the Malaysian Government introduces a more stringent screening process for work permits," said Dr Sufian.

"I'm sure after this, their application to stay in Malaysia would be subjected to much stricter processes," he added.

The new visa requirements might also slow down trade deals between the two countries, but the impact on economic and bilateral relations will be minimal, the experts said.

The Kim dynasty: North Korea's secretive rulers

  • Following a successful missile test and the murder of his half-brother in Kuala Lumpur, North Korean leader Kim Jung Un has been thrust back into the headlines. Here's a look at the hermit state's ruling dynasty.
  • Known as "The Eternal President", Kim Il Sung established the North Korean dictatorship after World War II. With the help of the Soviets who installed him, he purged political enemies and laid the foundations for the regime we see today.
  • Kim Il Sung had three children; Kim Man Il, Kim Kyung Hee and his successor Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Il ran the country after his father's death in 1994.
  • State media announced the death of "The Dear Leader" on December 19, 2011. He is thought to have had at least four female partners.
  • Kim Jong Il had an affair with actress Song Hye-rim, before marrying his first wife Kim Yong Suk (not pictured). The pair had a son, Kim Jong-nam.
  • Kim Jong-nam was raised in secrecy and tipped to take the North Korean crown after his father's death, but fell out of favor after being caught trying to travel to Disneyland. He was allegedly murdered in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 13, 2017.
  • Another one of Kim Jong Il's lovers. Ko Yong Hui was working as a dancer before becoming his partner and bore him two sons and a daughter. One of the sons is Kim Jong-Un, the country's current leader. She died in 2004.
  • The supreme leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), lLittle is known for sure about Kim Jong Un. Even his birth date is uncertain but he is believed to be around 33 years old.
  • Before taking power, he had barely been seen in public, and many of the activities of both Kim and his government remain shrouded in secrecy.
  • The oldest son of Kim Jong Il but passed over for the top job by his younger brother Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Chul was initially seen as the successor but a book written by a chef to the family suggested he was viewed as too soft for the job.
  • Mystery also surrounds Kim Yo Chong, the younger sister of Kim Yong Un. Born in 1987, she reportedly attended the International School of Berne in Switzerland.
  • The International Business Times reported that in October 2014 she possibly took over state duties for her brother while he underwent medical treatment.

"I doubt it will affect North Korea's economy," said Dr Geetha.

"However, illicit activities that generate income or allow them to obtain hard cash will certainly be affected with new restrictions imposed by Malaysia," she added.

North Koreans are not allowed to travel freely without the regime's permission. Those who have access to international travel are likely to have links with the government.

Apart from diplomatic staff and families, Amnesty International has reported that some 50,000 North Koreans work abroad.