Less than two weeks ago there was a bit of news—little reported in the United States, but more on that later—that Malaysia had cut off all imports from North Korea. In the scheme of global trade, the numbers seem small. Malaysia’s annual imports may total no more than about $15 million, but those millions in cash are the lifeblood of a pariah nation that can barely pay its electric bill, let alone finance even the barest-bones infrastructure project to pave roads.
Malaysia’s decision to cut economic ties with Kim Jong-un shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, the North Korean dictator had the poor social grace to have his half-brother assassinated in the Kuala Lumpur international airport. But that isn’t the only reason. Give some credit to savvy foreign policy gamesmanship by President Trump and his administration.
Recall that about a month ago, Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, visited the United States and the White House. To the media, the visit was “controversial” and a “terrible idea.” So-called “foreign policy experts” called the meeting a setback for the rule of law. The media’s favorite term to describe the prime minister was “embattled,” due to a financial scandal in which he is allegedly embroiled, although the Malaysian justice system has yet to find any evidence to charge him with a crime.