LOL: the chilling acronym-come-calling card of the suspected killer of Kim Jong-nam. As items of sartorial intrigue go, this was a puzzling choice. Why would an assassin choose to wear a top emblazoned with a ubiquitous expression of amusement from the internet? Was it a statement of blasé indifference to her chosen profession – the LOL of a woman detached from her murderous career? Or was it intended for the victim; LOL, you thought you were safe?
It is entirely possible that the LOL has no significance at all. That it was a fleeting choice, made purely to achieve the requisite level of inconspicuousness for a political assassination. It’s a completely trivial point really. But, of all the news recently, it is this detail that stuck with me.
What really matters in this story – beyond what it might suggest about the insecurity of Kim Jong-un – is the fact that North Korea felt sufficiently emboldened to launch an attack on Malaysian soil. Now obviously it would be unhelpful to assume North Korea would adhere to the norms of the international community; the regime has too much of a penchant for launching projectiles into the ocean for that. But it is step-change to go from inappropriately engaging in arms projects to sending state-sponsored killers to another country. Of course, this is assuming that you don’t believe the bizarre claim by one of the suspects that she thought she was simply taking part in a prank for a TV show, which you obviously shouldn’t.
It speaks to a wider topic – conceptions of sovereignty in Asian states. The killing of Kim Jong-nam reflects a far less rigid understanding of sovereignty dominant in Asia than European nations would tolerate. Throughout the history of the region there has been a continual acceptance of cooperation, intervention, and combination as part of the landscape of diplomacy. Even today, interactions between ASEAN states exceed levels seen anyway in the world except the EU-bloc.
Malaysia, understandably, is indignant about the assassination, and the later break-in at the morgue where the body was being held. North Korea is still heavily suspected. But the sky hasn’t fallen in. Kim Jong-un may have behaved badly, but he hasn’t broken the rules of the game. This isn’t to say that international law fails to operate in Asia – but rather that conceptions about acceptable conduct and the limits of state influence are more fluid than in Europe.
Maybe I have just solved the LOL puzzle. Rather than anything sinister, the North Koreans were simply following every benignly confused elderly texter. To Malaysia, Lots Of Love from North Korea.
Written By: Matt Allen