India has apparently changed its strategy with North Korea – sending a minister on a diplomatic mission to Pyongyang for the first time in two decades.
Minister of state for foreign affairs VK Singh arrived in Pyongyang on May 15 for a two-day official visit at the invitation of the North Korean government, the Indian media reported quoting the official Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun.
The development comes at a time when North Korea has criticised Washington’s approach towards Pyongyang – even threatening to pull out of the Singapore summit between its leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.
Singh met Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Vice President Kim Yong Dae, and the foreign and culture ministers for discussions on “a range of issues covering political, regional, economic, educational and cultural cooperation between the two countries”, India’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
He also used the occasion to raise India’s concerns about the long-standing links between the nuclear and missile programmes of North Korea and Pakistan. Without naming Pakistan, the statement said Singh “highlighted the threat from nuclear proliferation, in particular India’s concerns in the context of the proliferation linkages with India’s neighbourhood”.
The statement added, “The DPRK side emphasized that as a friendly country DPRK will never allow any action that would create concerns for India’s security.”
Singh’s visit is significant as the Indian government had issued a notification in March last year imposing strict restrictions on trade with North Korea, other than essential items such as food and medicines. The trip also followed India’s new envoy to North Korea, Atul Gotsurve, taking up his assignment.
India has always had diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, although its trade ties were impacted after sanctions were imposed by the United States and the United Nations following multiple nuclear tests by North Korea.
Multiple media reports also said New Delhi had refused a request from former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to shut down its diplomatic mission in Pyongyang.
Before the restrictions were imposed last year, India was North Korea’s second largest trading partner after China. The restrictions had completely banned the imports of coal, minerals and metals from North Korea.
The visit by Singh, and the secrecy surrounding it suggests that India is trying to quietly rebuild ties with the reclusive regime.