World Asia Pacific First Look

Should North Korea be suspended from the UN for Kim Jong Nam's murder?

South Korea's foreign minister said the alleged use of chemical weapons by North Korea against Kim Jong Un's brother could be cause for suspending country's seat at the United Nations.

Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of North Korea's then-leader Kim Jong Il, waves after his first-ever interview with South Korean media in Macau in 2010.
Shin In-seop/JoongAng Ilbo/AP/File | Caption

South Korean foreign minister Yun Byung-se said the murder of Kim Jong Nam should be a “wake-up call” to the international community, calling for the United Nations to punish North Korea for what it describes as the North Korea-authored assassination of ruler Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother.

Mr. Yun’s statements come days after Malaysian police concluded that the two women accused of attacking Kim Jong Nam in Kuala Lumpur’s international airport likely smeared his face with VX nerve agent — a chemical weapon listed by the UN as a banned weapon of mass destruction. 

"North Korea is reported to have not just grams but thousands of tonnes of chemical weapons, including VX, all over the country,” said Yun at the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

"The recent assassination is a wake-up call to all of us to North Korea's chemical weapons capability and its intent to actually use them."

North Korea has rejected as the "fictitious and preposterous assumptions” the assertion from US and South Korean officials that Pyongyang directed the murder. On Tuesday, it called Yun’s comments "despicable and ill-natured," reports Reuters. 

Yun’s remarks turn a spotlight onto what, if anything, powerful nations might do in response to the murder, as further details about how and why it unfolded become public.

The Trump administration cancelled informal talks with North Korean delegates in the days after Kim Jong Nam's death. But at least publicly, it has taken little action beyond that, leading some to call for a public denunciation in the vein of reactions by the Bush and Obama administrations to North Korean proliferation.

China, the North’s main ally, has responded by banning coal imports. But as Daniel Pinkston, a lecturer in international relations at Troy University in Seoul, told The Christian Science Monitor’s John Power on Feb. 15, China could be reluctant to punish Pyongyang too harshly for fear of creating greater instability in the region.

"Would there be any immediate actionable items for China? I don't think so. It's shocking, but not really new," said Mr. Pinkston then. "Kim Jong-un has already demonstrated the willingness to use violence, even against former close associates and family members."

Among those family members is Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Jang Son Thaek, who was executed just two years into the former’s reign. Mr. Jang was close to Kim Jong Nam, and may have even supported him financially, said Chang Yong Seok, senior researcher at Seoul National University's Institute for Peace and Unification studies, in an interview with the Associated Press.

Kim Jong Un, meanwhile, issued an order to assassinate Kim Jong Nam soon after inheriting power, according to South Korean intelligence officials, who say that the latter penned a letter to his half-brother following a 2012 attempt, begging him to lift the order.

"We have nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, and we know that the only way to escape is to commit suicide," he wrote in the letter, according to the AP.

In the days following the attack, Malaysian police arrested two women, Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong and Indonesian Siti Aishah. Both women will be formally charged on Wednesday under a section of the penal code that carries the death penalty.

Police in Malaysia are also holding one other North Korean man and have identified seven other North Koreans in connection with the plot.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.