It will be a bit awkward to see a leader from the world’s largest democracy being crushed in a bear hug by the leader of the world’s most totalitarian regime.
The ongoing visit of minister of state V K Singh to North Korea is both odd and mystifying.
Mystifying, because it has taken place behind a pall of secrecy, although he is the senior-most Indian minister to visit the capital of the Stalinist regime in more than 20 years.
Singh’s visit is also decidedly odd. After Delhi issued a laudatory statement on the recent historic meeting between North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, it quickly followed it up by asking both sides to dig deeper into the “proliferation linkages of DPRK’s nuclear and missile programme.” It pointed to reports that Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan had sold both nuclear and missile technology to Pyongyang. Perhaps Delhi was scrambling to stay in the game by reminding all sides that it was all very well to make peace, but that the core issue — how DPRK was able to ramp up its missile and nuclear programme — should not be forgotten.
Now, a senior Indian minister is in the capital of the country it obliquely criticised only weeks ago. Singh is said to have reached Pyongyang Tuesday from China, and that talks with his counterparts will be held today (Wednesday).
Does Singh’s visit now mean that Delhi is okay with DPRK’s “proliferation linkages” and that it is willing to forget and forgive A.Q. Khan’s international nuclear-missile shopping spree?
Perhaps, we should be kinder to the Narendra Modi government’s foreign policy instincts, especially in the wake of the Wuhan summit. Chinese officials are said to have conceded in informal conversations with Indian analysts that it was totally taken by surprise by Kim Jong-un’s determination to end hostilities with South Korea. This explains why President Xi has been feting the North Korean leader – he wants China to be part of the potential North Korean-South Korean-US conversation and doesn’t want to let Kim forget that Beijing has kept the North afloat these past several decades.
Perhaps, Delhi feels that now is the time to get an insider’s take on the relationship between Pyongyang and Beijing, which will surely help Foreign Office mandarins in Delhi to evolve their own understanding of the Chinese. Second, this is perhaps the best time to get some inside information on those “proliferation linkages” between North Korea and Pakistan. The hope is that the Dear Leader will tell all, seeing that he is probably all warm and fuzzy after his happy conversations with his South Korean counterpart.
But if timing is everything in politics, and if the North Korean-US summit slated for June 12 in Singapore is suddenly in trouble, was it right for Delhi to send V K Singh at this time to Pyongyang? Certainly, his presence has set off wild speculation, ranging from Singh being used by the Americans as a possible messenger to assuage the North Koreans (in the light of the good Indo-US relationship) to the prosaic need to improve bilateral trade that has nosedived since the US imposed sanctions and India gamely followed suit.
Whatever the reasons, it will be a bit awkward to see a leader from the world’s largest democracy being crushed in a bear hug by the leader of the world’s most totalitarian regime.
Singh’s visit is also a direct snub to Donald Trump signing into law the wordy ‘Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’ (CAATSA), which expressly targets Iran, North Korea and Russia. Remember that Modi is slated to travel to Sochi in Russia on May 21, this time to warmly embrace Russian president Vladimir Putin – and that CAATSA, in principle, will kick in if India buys the S-400 missiles it intends to from Moscow.
Perhaps, Singh’s visit to Pyongyang is a manifestation of the growing distance between India and the US under Trump. Or maybe Delhi believes it is wiser to pay greater attention to the dictators in the East, on whom it will take much longer for the sun to set.