India reaches out, wants to upgrade ties with North Korea

Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju and CPI(M)general secretary Sitaram Yechury at an event inthe North Korean Embassy. Photo: Special Arrangement  

In a quiet but extremely significant diplomatic move, India signalled upgraded ties with North Korea, by sending Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju to participate in an event marking the North Korean national Independence Day in New Delhi, The Hindu has learnt.

India’s bilateral ties with North Korea have been frosty for several decades mainly due to the latter’s close strategic ties with Pakistan.

But last April, North Korean leader >Kim Jong-Un made a tentative beginning by sending his Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong to Delhi.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Rijiju, nominated by the Ministry of External Affairs to represent the Indian government in the official event, said the bilateral ties were “going to change.” Mr. Rijiju posted a few photographs and a brief note on the event on his Facebook page.

“North Korea is an independent country and a member of the United Nations and we should have good bilateral trade ties,” Mr. Rijiju said.

Vyjayanti Raghavan, an expert on Korean Affairs at Jawaharlal Nehru University, says Mr. Rijiju has become the first Minister from the Indian side ever to address a bilateral event featuring the North Korean flag on the national Independence Day. “It’s a symbolic move and shows that India will accord higher diplomatic courtesies to Pyongyang,” she said.

The former Foreign Secretary, Maharaj Krishna Rasgotra, also confirmed that India discouraged ministerial interaction with North Korea traditionally as a punishment for North’s ties with Pakistan. But by sending Mr. Rijiju to the North Korean embassy, India had set a new practice.

The North Korean event was also attended by CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, who in July 2013, >led a three-member parliamentary delegation to Pyongyang.

Mr. Yechury says that Mr. Rijiju’s presence was a major and significant diplomatic step. “Though the Government of India showed interest in normalising ties with North Korea earlier during the UPA, I was sceptical of any follow up initiatives under the Modi government. But Mr. Rijiju convinced me that the ties between Delhi and Pyongyang are going to get better. Given the China factor and Mr. Rijiju’s origin in Arunachal Pradesh, it was a good decision to send him as the Minister for the event,” Mr. Yechury told The Hindu.

Mr. Rijiju clarified that his presence at the event was not a hasty decision but was part of a well thought out diplomatic move.

“We have been discussing inside the government ways and means of upgrading bilateral ties with North Korea ever since the North Korean Foreign Minister visited Delhi last April. We feel that there should not be the usual old hurdles and suspicion in bilateral ties as North Korea is an independent country and also a member of the United Nations. A relationship based on greater trade and commerce between two sides is the way ahead.”

Mr. Yechury says that the rethink is part of a political consensus borne out of the long term interest of India. The official support to Mr. Rijiju’s participation was evident to the notable Indian guests at the event who were helped by the MEA. While Mr. Rijiju is talking of trade and commerce, the real reasons for better bilateral ties, says Yechury, lie under the surface of North Korea.

North Korea is estimated to have one of the largest global deposits of minerals and rare earth metals necessary for India’s IT industry and electronic majors.

Hamdullah Saeed of the Congress, ex-MP from Lakshadweep, who visited Pyongyang along with Mr. Yechury in 2013, said that past actions of Pyongyang need to be seen in the perspective of India’s growing need for rare metals in the global market which might otherwise go to other interested parties. Already, there are early signs emanating from western capitals on reorienting ties with Pyongyang.

Diplomats are not ruling out the possibility that a dramatic change in bilateral ties like what the U.S. achieved with Iran and Cuba could possibly also occur in case of North Korea. “There is a rush for strategic resources in the countries like North Korea that were blockaded and sanctioned away from global economy. India should be an early bird in North Korea just in case North Korean economic ties with the world undergo change in near future,” Mr. Saeed said.

Despite the tension between the North and South Koreas which often threaten each other with annihilation, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has announced that it will start a service targeting North Korea in near future. Dr. Raghavan says that the BBC’s move shows that the world is impatient to reach out to North Korea.

A major factor that inhibited India’s steps towards the North Korean market in the past was the sensitivity of South Korea towards such a move. This time, India balanced it out by sending Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu to Seoul to seek greater South Korean collaboration on high speed rail network. Mr. Yechury says political risk of getting friendly with North Korea has been calculated for sometime now: “the parliamentary delegation of 2011 was sent to Pyongyang after considering the South Korean sentiments.”

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 4:03:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-reaches-out-wants-to-upgrade-ties-with-north-korea/article7656332.ece

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