New Delhi has made a sharp diplomatic move, which is going to irk China as it directly threatens to erode Beijing’s diplomatic capital. Last month, India extended 1 million US dollars in medical assistance to Pyongyang, making New Delhi one of the few powers to reach out to the pariah state of North Korea. This directly militates against China’s vision of a Client State in North Korea.
A Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) press release dated July 24 read, “The Government of India has extended medical assistance worth about US$ 1 million to Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in response to a request received from the World Health Organisation (WHO).”
It added, “India is sensitive to the shortage of medical supply situation in DPRK and decided to grant humanitarian assistance of US$1mn in the form of anti-Tuberculosis medicines. The medical assistance is under the aegis of an ongoing World Health Organisation’s (WHO) anti-tuberculosis programme in DPRK.”
Since New Delhi’s medical assistance to North Korea falls under the aegis of an ongoing WHO programme, it stands exempted from the UNSC sanctions imposed upon the secret Communist country. By sending medical aid to a Communist country, which is seen as Beijing’s client state, India is sending a message to Beijing at a time when the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are locked in a military standoff.
However, this is not a rare reach-out from India, as the ties between New Delhi and Pyongyang have grown stronger over the past few years. Recently, the Indian Ambassador to North Korea, Atul Malhari Gotsurve, had hit headlines in North Korea after he presented a floral basket to the country’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un on the occasion of the eighth anniversary of the conferment of the title of Marshal on Kim Jong-un.
Gotsurve himself is the first Indian Foreign Services (IFS)-level officer to be posted in North Korea in many years, showing how New Delhi has been focussing on the Communist country for the past years. Gotsurve himself was appointed as India’s Ambassador in 2018, just before the visit of General (retd.), VK Singh, the first Indian Minister to visit North Korea since 1998.
During his visit to North Korea, Singh had underscored the “threat from nuclear proliferation” and had also conveyed New Delhi’s “concerns in the context of the proliferation linkages with neighbourhood” to the North Korean leaders. India had shown first signs of being concerned with North Korea’s Nuclear programme and this is where New Delhi’s soft diplomacy in the isolated country becomes very relevant.
As such India has historical ties with both the countries in the Korean Peninsula. When it comes to the Communist side of the Korean Peninsula- North Korea, India is a major player being the second-biggest trade partner of Pyongyang, next only to China. India accounts for 3.5 per cent of North Korea’s exports and 3.1 per cent of its imports.
New Delhi reaches out to North Korea, despite the latter being a small, isolated country. This can be described as a vestige of the Non-Alignment policy. India continues to interact with countries which the West detests, though New Delhi’s ties with the Western world have been peaking with India’s affirmative status as the world’s biggest democracy.
As such India’s role in the Korean Peninsula is growing bigger and bigger, and New Delhi wants to reach a vantage point from where it can play mediator in the nuclear deal negotiations between the US and North Korea.
As such, China cannot be trusted in a mediator role between the US and North Korea. Firstly, because China itself is emerging as a rogue state and the US-China rivalry rules out Beijing from getting to play such a crucial role. Secondly, North Korea is Beijing’s client state and as such the paper dragon would be more tempted to harm Washington’s interests rather than help it secure a favourable deal.
India has a longstanding diplomatic heft in the Korean Peninsula. During the Korean war, India was one of the few countries to have played a neutral and humanitarian role. India had played a pivotal role in the formation of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) along the 38th Parallel that divides North Korea and South Korea.
The Custodian Forces- India (CFI) had played the biggest role in rendering humanitarian assistance to the troops and civilians on both sides, while other countries were engaged in pursuing their diplomatic ambitions.
The Neutral Nations Repatriation Committee (NNRC) was also set up with India’s initiative and also helmed by New Delhi. As such the task of processing repatriations and persuading Prisoners of War to return to their own countries was also undertaken by the CFI that consisted of both military troops and civilian personnel. It was partly due to India’s efforts that the Korean war ended and tempers calmed down on both sides.
India’s role in the Korean Peninsula today is only an extension of the farsightedness shown during the Korean war. Today, India’s political and economic heft is much larger than what it was during the Korean war.
By promoting peace, tranquillity and a lasting solution in the Korean Peninsula, New Delhi is making a strong case for permanent UNSC membership also. India is much more instrumental than China in promoting global peace. As far as Asia’s participation in the UNSC is concerned, it should be represented by a peaceful India, and not a belligerent China.