India's secret-ish romance with North Korea

At a time when Kim Jong-il’s North Korea became a global outcast, China wasn’t the only country that didn’t abandon the Dear Leader. KP Nayar reports in TheTelegraph that India quietly worked its way into the North Koreans’ good books as well. It’s a little known initiative of the Manmohan Singh government and it came in the shape of 900 tonnes of soya beans and 373 tonnes of wheat for the famine-stricken country.

That’s news to many Indians. An editorial in The Indian Express said few tears would be shed for Kim Jong-il in India because “The departed North Korean dictator will be remembered for helping bring many Indian cities within range of Pakistani nuclear weapons.” In the 1980s, Indians suspected Pakistan supplied Khalistani militants with North Korean weapons, reports The Economic Times.

That is true but geopolitics makes for strange bedfellows and India wanted to have greater influence in East Asia. But the India-North Korea rapprochement was a tricky one because India was also courting South Korea assiduously for investment, something North Korea was not too thrilled about. But when India showed up at the Pyongyang Autumn International Trade Fair in October 2010, Pyongyang was mollified. It sent its own de facto Foreign Minister to the Indian embassy during a Republic Day reception. Then North Korea’s ambassador in New Delhi came to the foreign ministry to discuss his country’s food shortage – a surprising admission from the fiercely secretive and proud country.

Kim Jong

The India-North Korea rapprochement was a tricky one because India was also courting South Korea assiduously for investment, something North Korea was not too thrilled about. AP

Nayar goes on to describe the “hard bargain” India decided to strike in return for the food aid. India got a comprehensive briefing about the dire situation that few others were fortunate to receive. Ambassador Pratap Singh was allowed to visit the countryside when most diplomats were restricted to Pyongyang.

“Overnight Pratap Singh was the toast of the diplomatic community in Pyongyang because he had seen slices of North Korean life that most ambassadors accredited to the communist regime had not been allowed a peek into,” writes Nayar.

Elizabeth Roche acknowledges this blooming of a New Delhi-Pyongyang relationship on Livemint.com but reads less into it saying that despite that gesture India “has very little leverage with Pyongyang.” She writes that India is more worried about how instability in the region will affect its major partners viz South Korea and Japan.

India kept its aid to North Korea low-key but you can read more about its impact and about the South Korean and American reactions to India’s new found love for North Korea here.


Updated Date: Dec 20, 2011 10:43 AM

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