India cosying up to mineral-rich North Korea

NEW DELHI • India's decision to send its Minister of State for Home to a recent event in New Delhi to mark North Korea's independence signals its latest bid to move closer to the mineral-rich pariah state.

Mr Kiren Rijiju, who was the first minister to attend the event, told The Hindu newspaper that bilateral ties between New Delhi and Pyongyang were "going to change".

"North Korea is the most militaristic country in the world. It is very isolated from the rest of the world (and) yet (is a) very powerful nation," he wrote on his Facebook page and posted images of the function last Wednesday.

"Their level of patriotism is amazing. I'm happy to attend as chief guest on their national day," Mr Rijiju added.

India has been critical of North Korea's nuclear ambitions and wary of the latter's strategic ties with its arch-rival, Pakistan. However, India is also a major trade partner and food aid provider to the isolated country.

Professor Vyjayanti Raghavan, an expert on Korean affairs at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said Mr Rijiju was the first minister from the Indian side ever to address a bilateral event featuring the North Korean flag on the latter's independence day, The Hindu reported.

"It's a symbolic move and shows that India will accord higher diplomatic courtesies to Pyongyang," she was quoted as saying.

Mr Rijiju said the Indian government has been mulling over ways to upgrade ties with North Korea and "a relationship based on greater trade and commerce between two sides is the way ahead".

India's Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, who also attended the North Korean event, said the real reason for India's friendly move lies under the surface of North Korea - massive deposits of minerals and rare metals needed by India's IT and electronics sectors.

"There is a rush for strategic resources in countries like North Korea that were blockaded and sanctioned away from global economy," said Mr Hamdullah Saeed of the Congress party.

"India should be an early bird in North Korea just in case North Korean economic ties with the world undergo change in the near future."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2015, with the headline 'India cosying up to mineral-rich North Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe