Home / Politics / Policy /  India raises nuclear proliferation issue with North Korea

Bandar Seri Begawan/Brunei Darussalam: A much-anticipated meeting between the Indian and the Chinese foreign ministers didn’t happen on Monday (it will on Tuesday), but India did get to voice its concerns about the clandestine transfer of nuclear technology from North Korea to Pakistan in a meeting with the former, and also didn’t lose the opportunity to give the reclusive nation some advice on opening up to the world.

India’s foreign minister Salman Khurshid met with North Korea’s foreign minister Pak Ui-Chuan on the sidelines of the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or Asean.

Indian officials said the meeting had been requested by Pyongyang.

“They (North Koreans) were trying to explain why they take such a position on nuclear weapons. They say they are doing this to protect themselves," Khurshid told reporters, adding later that the North Korean side had given India “an opening to bring up and discuss our discomfort on their contribution to proliferation with Pakistan". He added that the meeting with China’s Wang Yi didn’t take place because of scheduling problems.

Khurshid said that the North Korean minister had explained recent actions by his country as those taken in self-defence against South Korea and added that he had, in turn, said that self-defence also came from not being isolated.

“Then you can have many more people helping you… this is the advice that (one) could give as friends," Khurshid said, adding that he hoped the North Korean minister would visit India soon for foreign office consultations. During this time, India would put forth in a much more clear manner its concerns about nuclear proliferation in India’s neighbourhood, he said.

India was a friend of North Korea but was taking a different position from the Pyongyang government on the nuclear issue given that it was a question of principle and in the backdrop of India’s impeccable record on non-proliferation, he added.

“The very fact that they (North Korea) want to engage with us, they want to reach out to us, gives us good opportunity to say that if we want an honest relationship, then it is important that just as we are listening to them… they must also factor in the fact that we do have a concern about proliferation," Khurshid said.

According to him, the North Korean minister had said his country didn’t want to help the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Tensions between the two Koreas have been high since a long-range rocket launch in December, nuclear test in February and weeks of threats, all orchestrated by Pyongyang to purportedly defend itself from South Korea and the US.

Earlier this month, North Korea made a surprise offer for separate talks on non-nuclear issues with South Korea, although it subsequently withdrew the offer over what it said were issues related to protocol. Pyongyang also offered talks with the US, which remained cool to the offer. Media reports in Brunei said Asean member states are giving North Korea the cold shoulder.

India’s worries about North Korea’s non-proliferation record stems from its suspicions of the country’s close collaboration with Pakistan on missile and nuclear technologies. India and Pakistan have fought four wars since 1947 and both carried out a series of nuclear tests in May 1998. In the past, India has responded to requests for food aid from North Korea, sending rice through the World Food Programme. India also holds foreign office consultations with North Korea. Beyond that, India has limited leverage with the reclusive country, which counts China among its few allies. On his postponed meeting with the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, Khurshid said the bilateral meeting will take place on Tuesday.

“It will be useful to engage" and get “an update" from the Chinese side on how things have moved, he added.

Khurshid’s meeting with Wang —their second in about two months—will come soon after Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s visit to India in May, which was preceded by tensions between the Asian giants over their unsolved border issue dating back to a 1962 war. India had accused Chinese troops of entering its territory and establishing a base. The standoff took three weeks to resolve and almost threatened to derail Li’s India visit. Khurshid had visited Beijing in May to pave the way for Li’s visit. The Khurshid-Li meeting also follows a visit to China by India’s national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon over the weekend.

The minister said that a border defence and cooperation agreement (BDCA) being discussed by the two sides “was the next step to the agreement and protocols in place", referring to pacts signed in 1993, 1996 and 2005 that have largely ensured peace. The agreement would take time, he added, saying this was preferable to rushing things through and then having regrets.

The minister also held bilateral talks with his Bangladeshi counterpart Dipu Moni and passed on an invitation to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to visit India. Bangladesh is expected to go to the polls later this year when the tenure of the Sheikh Hasina government comes to an end in December.

Khurshid said he discussed long-term energy cooperation with Moni. India is to provide 250 MW of power from state-run entities to Bangladesh and will be looking at selling an additional 250 MW of power from private producers as “a one-off plan", Khurshid said.

Besides bilateral engagements, Khurshid also took part in the 11th Asean-India ministerial meeting on Monday. India last year commemorated two decades of relations with the 10-member grouping. It was in 1992 that India became a sectoral dialogue partner of Asean. In 1996, this was upgraded to full dialogue partnership. Since 2002, India and Asean have held annual summits.

Khurshid told reporters that India was looking to upgrade air, sea and road connectivity with Asean countries. He added that this “emphasis on connectivity" fits in well with India’s plans to develop its northeastern region.

In remarks to the Asean-India ministerial meeting, Khurshid said as Asean nations proceeded towards integration among themselves, “the process of integration with India should also move apace... We would like to engage with you as to how India can contribute further to the processes towards the Asean community by 2015".

Khurshid suggested a Mekong India Economic Corridor with special economic zones to attract private investment in such “connectivity corridors".

The minister also referred to the proposed highway from Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand, via Myanmar, which was conceived in Yangon in April 2002.

“We look forward to receiving from Lao PDR the coordinated route alignments so that examination of the extension of the Trilateral Highway to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam can begin. Our commitments to the Trilateral Highway linking India-Myanmar-Thailand are proceeding as planned," he said. Khurshid also flagged India’s priorities in preparations for the 11th Asean-India summit on 10 October that includes setting up four information technology centres and the training of Asean personnel in space science and technology.

Elizabeth Roche was in Brunei as part of an India-Asean media exchange programme.

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