India seeks major power status by pivot to NK

By Liu Zongyi Source:Global Times Published: 2018/5/22 21:18:39

At the invitation of the North Korean government, India's Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh visited Pyongyang last week. His trip surprised international observers, as high-level exchanges have not been seen between the two countries in recent years. The latest was in 2015 when then North Korean foreign minister Ri Su-yong visited New Delhi, the highest-level North Korean official to visit India in more than 30 years. In September of the same year, Indian Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju participated in an event marking North Korea's National Day in New Delhi.

The 2015 interaction made Indian scholars excited. They proposed that India should take this opportunity to intensify diplomatic efforts to engage North Korea and expand its Act East policy. However, ties soured after India, under US pressure, imposed restrictions on trade with North Korea. Yet New Delhi hasn't completely succumbed to US pressure. It rejected Washington's request to close its embassy in Pyongyang.

The independence and flexibility of Indian diplomacy paved the way for Singh's Pyongyang visit, which in turn, highlights the sagacity of New Delhi's diplomatic efforts - seizing the opportunity to address India's core concerns and meanwhile laying the basis to deepen ties with Pyongyang.

Singh's Pyongyang trip has two purposes. To begin with, India wants to get assurance from North Korea ahead of the Kim-Trump summit that the latter will not cooperate with Pakistan in nuclear and missile development. This is India's core concern. Since 1999, India believes that North Korea provided ballistic missile technology and components to Pakistan, which India thinks jeopardizes its security and regional stability.

Apparently, India doesn't want to see North Korea assist its enemy, Pakistan, in nuclear and missile development, but New Delhi is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty or Missile Technology Control Regime, and thus has no right to criticize North Korea. Now, Pyongyang has announced its pursuit of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and will negotiate with Washington on the issue. This is a good chance for India to address its core concern, as North Korea, to ensure the success of talks with the US, will surely make some pledges on denuclearization.

According to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, the country has achieved success in this regard, with North Korea promising that it "will never allow any action that would create concerns for India's security."

Another purpose of Singh's visit is to ensure his country's entry into the North Korean market. During the third plenary meeting of the Seventh Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced that the country would "concentrate all efforts on socialist economic construction."

China also expressed support for North Korea's focus on economy. With abundant resources and a disciplined population, North Korea - its security ensured - will see rapid growth after its strategic focus is diverted to its economy.

India is the third largest trading partner of North Korea. However, following UN sanctions, New Delhi had to impose restrictions on trade with Pyongyang. At the time of North Korea's reforms, India is more than willing to enter the country's market and expand its trade exchange. North Korea has abundant rare earth resources, which has attracted the attention of many countries including India, especially after China intensified regulations on the export of rare earths. Singh's visit has won India some advantage in future economic cooperation with North Korea.

Singh's trip has also promoted India's Act East policy, but hasn't tremendously boosted its major power status as some Indian scholars hoped. In fact, India has no say in Korean Peninsula affairs.

In the past few decades, New Delhi's relations with Pyongyang were restrained by India-South Korea and US-North Korea ties, and are dependent on the peace process of the peninsula.

It's unknown whether the Indian government, by sending Singh to North Korea, intends to exercise influence on the peninsula's peace process so as to showcase its status as a major power. But since Singh wasn't received by Kim, it indicates that Pyongyang doesn't regard New Delhi a key player in the peninsula standoff.

Undeniably, India aims at enhancing its major power status by intensifying ties with North Korea. Rijiju's visit to North Korean Embassy in New Delhi was intended to gain Pyongyang's support for India's bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

The author is a senior fellow of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, a visiting fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China and a distinguished fellow of the China (Kunming) South Asia & Southeast Asia Institute.

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