VK Singh's surprise visit to North Korea was badly timed

New Delhi's efforts may go in vain as Pyongyang has threatened to cancel the June 12 summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.

 |  5-minute read |   17-05-2018
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Learning from its mistakes in Iran, India rushed General VK Singh, minister of state for external affairs, to North Korea anticipating relaxation of sanctions on Pyongyang following next month's proposed summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. Pyongyang, however, has threatened to cancel the June 12 summit between Kim and Trump if Washington insists on pushing it “into a corner” on nuclear disarmament. 

Sadly, New Delhi seems to have again got the timing wrong.

India has always maintained good ties with North Korea, all through the difficult years, sending food shipments during times of scarcity, but gradually distanced itself from Pyongyang following UN sanctions.

Now, smelling an opportunity, New Delhi dispatched its junior minister before others could reach out to the "cornered country", which is badly in need of infrastructure. However in hindsight, considering that the North Korean leader is quite unpredictable, India could have waited for a while.

vk-singh_051718121640.jpgReaching out too early? [Image: KCNAWatch]

Having called off Wednesday’s (May 16) high-level talks with Seoul to protest US-South Korean military exercises — Max Thunder drills — Pyongyang is threatening to scrap next month’s much-hyped summit between Trump and Kim too.

The on-going 11-day Max Thunder drill came as a nasty shock to Pyongyang, especially after it released three US prisoners ahead of the summit with Trump to create the right atmosphere for peace in the Korean Peninsula. North Korea for long has claimed that the drills are an invasion rehearsal.

The summit scheduled to take place in Singapore has not been called off yet, but an angry reaction from the state-controlled news agency, KCNA, is an indication that there could be several twists and turns ahead. The US though is hoping that this is just another North Korean bluster, the unpredictable leader of the hermit kingdom clearly doubts the US intentions.

The statement from North Korea is harsh, saying: "The United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-US summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities."

The news agency dubbed the exercises as a "rehearsal for invasion".

This is a serious charge. Considering that Kim Jong-un was in his best behaviour during his meeting with the South Korean President Moon Jae-in and even US secretary of state Mike Pompeo was received with warmth during his visit to the North, the exercises could have been delayed.

kim-mae-copy_051718012827.jpgNorth meets South:  Moon Jae-in with Kim Jong-un. [Credit: Reuters]

Holding the drill later would have enhanced the feel-good factor. At the time of writing, the White House had not reacted angrily to the Korean statement. There is a huge question mark over the summit. Even if it does take place, Kim Jong-un in all likelihood would be prove a tough negotiator and perhaps not much can be expected.

Though Pyongyang has so far not commented on the US decision to walk out of the nuclear agreement with Iran, it seems to be very much in Kim Jong-un’s mind. How do you trust a country which does not honour its international commitments? First it was the Paris climate accord, and the Trans Pacific Partnership. Then came the Iran nuclear deal.

Meanwhile, VK Singh is rounding off his two-day visit to Pyongyang, the first Indian minister to visit the country after a gap of almost 20 years. In a statement issued by the MEA, it said that India and North Korea will be celebrating 45 years of diplomatic relations. 

Singh met several senior leaders of North Korea and got a overview of the situation in the Korean Peninsula. "The MoS reiterated India’s support to the joint peace initiative of DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) and Republic of Korea leadership, encouraging both sides for their efforts towards peace and prosperity in the Korean Peninsula. The MoS highlighted the threat from nuclear proliferation, in particular India’s concerns in the context of proliferation linkages with India’s neighbours," the MEA statement said.

In short, Singh was referring to Pakistan’s nuclear scientist AQ Khan’s role in transferring nuclear technology to North Korea. Singh, according to the MEA, was told that "as a friendly country, DPRK would never allow any action that would create concerns for India’s security".

Singh came back with assurance that the two countries would explore possibilities of co-operation in agriculture, yoga, traditional medicines, and pharmaceuticals.

During the Cold War era, Delhi and Pyongyang had robust ties. In fact, both nations were on the side of the former Soviet Union, but in recent years relations have been lukewarm. New Delhi surely is hoping for détente between the US and North Korea. Unlike in Iran, where India had waited far too long to register its presence after the nuclear deal of 2015, this time it wanted to get things just right.

Unfortunately, it may prove to be nothing but a wasted effort, as chances of the US-North Korea summit getting scrapped continue to be high.

So, did India goof-up? Not really. If talks break down and North Korea again goes into seclusion, it would be nothing more than a wasted effort. But if the talks take place, New Delhi and Indian companies may be on a good wicket.

Also read: Why Kashmir needs more than just Ramzan ceasefire


Seema Guha Seema Guha @seemaguha1

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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