KUALA LUMPUR: While Malaysia may have weathered the 2021 pandemic year fairly well, it was a bumpy road for the country at the diplomatic front with some unforeseen dramatic developments that even made world headlines.

Early in the year, a diplomatic crisis emerged after a Malaysian court ruled that a North Korean businessman be extradited to the United States (US) to face money-laundering charges in violation of the US imposed sanctions on the rogue state.

The state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on March 19 that in retaliation North Korea had severed all diplomatic ties with Malaysia on the grounds the latter had collaborated with the US in extraditing the businessman.

Malaysia's Foreign Ministry (Wisma Putra) responded politely by saying it regretted North Korea's decision, and in turn decided to close its embassy in Pyongyang.

Malaysia in fact had suspended its embassy's operations in Pyongyang in 2017 following the fallout from the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged step brother of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, in Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

With the diplomatic ties between both countries severed, Malaysia ordered all North Korean diplomatic, non-diplomatic staff and their families in Kuala Lumpur to leave the country within 48 hours.

The dramatic episode put Malaysia in the global media spotlight, with North Korea already hogging the headlines for raising the spectre of war with its missile tests and brash statements by its eccentric supreme leader.

As the dust was just settling down after the North Korean episode, Malaysia-China ties were ruffled and came into the international media's attention after 16 Chinese military aircraft flew in Malaysian airspace over Sarawak's coast, coming close to Beting Ali.

The unwarranted incursion evoked strong protest from Malaysia with a diplomatic protest sent to Beijing and China's Ambassador to Malaysia Ouyang Yujing summoned by Wisma Putra.

The incursions were nothing new, and in October, Ouyang was once again summoned by Wisma Putra after Chinese vessels had encroached the waters off the coast of Sabah.

Despite the hiccups, Malaysia and China continued to build on bilateral ties. Former Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein and his successor Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah went to China for official engagements at the invitation of their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, in April and December respectively.

Aside from the unwarranted episodes like the above, Malaysia, being one of the ASEAN's influential members was seen playing a key role along with the regional body's member states and dialogue partners in finding ways to help Myanmar restore law and order, and see to the return of a democratic government.

Since the Feb 1 coup that overthrew the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar witnessed a deterioration in public order as security forces and civilians clashed leaving at least 1,000 people dead.

Hence on April 24, ASEAN leaders who met in Indonesia's Jakarta reached the 5-Point Consensus in helping to tackle the political crisis in Myanmar.

However, the 5-Point Consensus did not make any headway due to Myanmar's indifference and hence for the very first time, the regional grouping that is known not to rock the boat took an extraordinary decision - exclude the junta from the 38th and 39th ASEAN Summits and Related Summits from Oct 26-28.

The snub on the junta by fellow ASEAN members was totally unexpected and was extraordinary in the history of ASEAN, and it happened in 2021.

Also, following the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, followed by the Taliban fighters entering Kabul on Aug 15 and taking control of the country for the first time in almost 20 years, Malaysia followed closely on the developments and lent its support for the country's self-determination goal.

To date, the Malaysian government is still following closely the developments though has yet to recognise the new Afghan government.

Moving into the third quarter of the year, Malaysia and several of its neighbours were jolted when out of the blue appeared the trilateral security pact AUKUS, the acronym of three countries - Australia-United Kingdom-United States - to counter China's growing presence in the Indo-Pacific.

Malaysia and Indonesia voiced their genuine concern as AUKUS could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region.

The new Indo-Pacific security alliance is to allow greater sharing of defence capabilities, including helping equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.

Nonetheless, 2021 will wrap up as a memorable year for the country's diplomacy, and rest assured 2022 be another challenging year with the country having to wade through many divisive issues at the regional and international spheres, including climate change and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).