India’s handling of Korean affairs raises many questions

Rohan Venkatesh
Sunday, 27 May 2018

Geographically Korean Peninsula is very important for India’s recently launched ‘Act East’ Policy. As a peninsula, it is surrounded by water on three sides and there are five bodies of water that touch it. These waters include the Sea of Japan, the Yellow Sea, the Korea Strait, the Cheju Strait and Korea Bay. China’s increasing influence in the Indian Ocean and its ambitious ‘Maritime Silk Route’ Project undermined India’s maritime interest in its own backyard. 

Considering how North Korea is right now at the centre of attention for international analysts, India’s relations with North Korea is a subject that may be looked at. Sending General Dr VK Singh, the Minister of State rank to North Korea has itself raised many questions over India’s handling the Korean affairs.

In the diplomatic discourse what you do not do is more important than what you do. If India would have chosen any of its first four rank political representatives including President, Vice-President, Prime Minister himself and even External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, to visit North Korea might be an appropriate diplomatic act. 

If Singh would have been visiting South Korea along with North Korea, it would have been considered as a balancing act. However, India missed the opportunity to influence Korean affairs; its strategic dilemma circumscribed its strategic priority. 

Geographically Korean Peninsula is very important for India’s recently launched ‘Act East’ Policy. As a peninsula, it is surrounded by water on three sides and there are five bodies of water that touch it. These waters include the Sea of Japan, the Yellow Sea, the Korea Strait, the Cheju Strait and Korea Bay. China’s increasing influence in the Indian Ocean and its ambitious ‘Maritime Silk Route’ Project undermined India’s maritime interest in its own backyard. 

The influence over Korean Peninsula can be a counter strategy to China’s increasing maritime influence.  Chinese officials are suffering from ‘Malacca Dilemma’ already. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that roughly 80 per cent of global trade by volume and 70 per cent by value is transported by sea. Of that volume, 60 per cent of maritime trade passes through Asia, with the South China Sea carrying an estimated one-third of global shipping. Its waters are particularly critical for China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, all of which rely on the Strait of Malacca, which connects the South China Sea and by extension, the Pacific Ocean with the Indian Ocean.

If India’s maritime strategy can extend its influence over Korean Peninsula, it will be considered as an effective counter-strategy to China, because it covers the South China Sea, where China has territorial issues with its neighboring states. Second is the issue of Taiwan with which China has a political issue. A third is a cooperation with Japan, where Japan and China have already tension over Senakaku Island. India could take this opportunity to encircle China in its own backyard under the shadow of Korean Affairs. Though this ministerial level visit came after a gap of almost 20 years, it assumed as a low profile visit. 

Considering high profile visits such as:  North Korea’s President Kim Jong’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, his meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and its proposed meeting with US President Donald Trump proved that only China and the US are the main stakeholders on Korean issues. This could be the future architecture of the global politics. However, India forgot what Obama said that power comes with responsibility.

The recent uproar started from last year when North Korea claims to have successfully tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile as well as to have developed a hydrogen bomb and to be able to mount it on a missile. Considering the nature of Donald Trump and Kim Jong, it is no exaggeration to say both are two sides of the same coin. 

China has its own interest in exploiting this issue and in establishing its own leadership and also the containment of American interference in the region. In this power politics India is essentially the right stakeholder to mediate between all the stakeholders. After the successful nuclear test, India is a credible stakeholder in nuclear affairs. Unlike China and Pakistan, India never joined illegal nuclear proliferation business. 

As of now, India signed a civil-nuclear deal with about 12 countries, despite the signatory of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the member of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). India could use this achievement as a bargaining tool to influence Korean issue. However, unfortunately, India neither could use this issue for its own national interest nor could come to a front-runner for international peace and security. 

In the age of symbolical politics, sending the state level minister is an exhibition of the wrong man at wrong place at wrong time.

(The author is a Pune-based Independent Strategic Analyst)

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