In the wake of Malaysia’s extradition to the United States of a North Korean trader suspected of illegal money laundering, relations between Pyongyang and Kuala Lumpur have hit rock bottom. As a result, North Korea has announced that they are severing diplomatic ties between the two countries. Additionally, North Korean authorities reportedly ordered that monitoring be stepped up on workers living overseas. 

A source in China told Daily NK on Monday that the North Korean authorities issued a directive on Sunday to their embassies or consulates in China and other countries to strengthen their systems of monitoring and reporting on overseas workers.

Pyongyang’s embassies and consulates previously held once-a-week meetings with trade company managers, but it appears that the meetings will occur twice a week going forward. The traders will also frequently be required to report on the movements of individuals and on any “unusual trends” to the embassies and consulates. 

Because North Korean diplomatic personnel have withdrawn from Malaysia, North Korean traders in the country will have expanded duties and authority over monitoring their workers in the country, and systems to monitor each other and report on unusual activities will be strengthened, according to the source. 

It appears that North Korean authorities are concerned that the aftermath of the diplomatic crisis in Malaysia could lead to ideological unrest or defections among North Korean workers dispatched abroad.

The source explained that the directive told trade workers not to mention anything about the Malaysia crisis.

Specifically, the Central Committee issued a directive to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordering its employees to refrain from making comments to those around them or to their families about the Malaysia situation.  

In addition to North Koreans living abroad, members of the Pyongyang ruling class are reportedly aware of the diplomatic break with Malaysia.

North Korea’s embassy in Malaysia. / Image: Daily NK

North Koreans with knowledge about the incident have reportedly expressed great disappointment in the authorities for failing to protect a loyal trader who took risks for the Workers’ Party. 

A source in North Korea told Daily NK that “[people] are embarrassed that a North Korean citizen was taken to the United States, North Korea’s greatest enemy” and that “[North Koreans] believed that if their country possessed nuclear weapons, they would be able to conduct diplomatic and economic relations in the international community. They are shocked that [international] action and cooperation has continued to be unsuccessful despite their acquisition of nuclear weapons.”

It appears that some believed that the violation of sanctions against North Korea would not result in substantial retaliation because their country has nuclear weapons. However, this incident has confirmed that nuclear weapons can not “protect” North Korean people living abroad.

Another source in the country told Daily NK that “the trader who was taken to the United States [likely] was not bringing luxury goods into [North Korea] for himself,” and that “people think of the ‘Utmost Dignity’ [North Korean leader Kim Jong Un] as the sun and risk their lives getting items into the country. However, if the Party can’t protect them [from arrest], they might not want to continue these dangerous activities.”

In short, the extradition of Mun Chol Myong to the United States on charges of money laundering reportedly has North Korean traders abroad feeling skepticism about the feasibility of taking items into the country amid import sanctions against North Korea. They also appear to feel disappointment toward the North Korean authorities for failing to protect him.

The source in China told Daily NK that “if [the North Korean authorities] aren’t careful, the incident in Malaysia could have a significant impact on the ideological resolve of traders” and that “it appears that this is what the authorities are most worried about.”

*Translated by S & J

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to