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VK Singh's Surprise Visit to North Korea to Rekindle Dormant Ties?

17 May 2018
VK Singh's Surprise Visit to North Korea to Rekindle Dormant Ties?

They discussed a broad range of issues covering political, regional, economic, educational and cultural cooperation between the two countries, the most important element from the Indian perspective being North Korea's assurance that it will "never allow any action that would create concerns for India's security".

The visit followed the presentation of credentials by the new Indian Ambassador, Atul Gotsurve, indicating that Mr. Singh's meetings had been fixed quite recently.

"We support the improvement of North-South (Korean) relations, the promotion of dialogue between North Korea and the USA, denuclearisation on the peninsula and North Korea's development of its economy", Mr Xi was quoted as saying by state broadcaster CCTV. The only real sign of movement around the building seems to be the flag fluttering weakly on the roof, which is also the only visible indicator of a North Korean presence.

The move was actually precipitated by India's concern over Pakistan's supposed access to North Korea's missile technology, strategically phrased as "proliferation linkages in India's neighbourhood".

The statement said the North Korean side "provided an overview of some of the recent developments in the Korean Peninsula".

People walk past the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore
People walk past the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore

The Indian outreach to North Korea comes at a time when old certainties are being challenged everywhere in the world, leading to multiple engagements by all relevant powers. "North Korea acted as an initiator [of reconciliation], which fact deserves definite approval", Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was quoted as saying during his ongoing visit to France. However, the timing of Mr. Singh's visit coincided with fresh tensions between Pyongyang and Washington over the nature of the talks between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un scheduled in Singapore for June 12. In the last few years, especially since Trump administration came to office, New Delhi had played along with Washington on the sanctions imposed on North Korea.

India has always maintained that Pakistan's nuclear scientist A Q Khan had helped North Korea in developing their nuclear programme.

It may be recalled that in October past year, India had made it clear that it will not shut its embassy in North Korea, telling the USA it must have some friendly countries that have embassies in Pyongyang so that "communication channels are open".

In what could indicate more trade and interaction now between the two countries, the MEA said, "The two sides chose to explore possibilities of cooperation in the areas of mutual interest, including vocational education, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, promotion of yoga and traditional medicines". The US, armed with reports that said India may have "unwittingly" contributed North Korea's rogue behaviour, lobbied with New Delhi to close down its mission and further reduce contacts. The two leaders also agreed on enhancing people-to-people relations in the field of education and culture. India complied with United Nations sanctions that were imposed on North Korea in 2016-17 and curtailed trade activities with Pyongyang.