The free world may no longer have to worry about Beijing’s ‘nuclear’ North Korea threat any longer. For decades, American and even South Korean strategists have advised against annoying China. Every time the Middle Kingdom faces some pressure from the democratic world, it starts using Pyongyang as a proxy to make nuclear threats. But now things are changing. North Korea-China trade is plunging uncontrollably and Pyongyang may soon turn to the world’s largest democracy- India.
As per a WSJ report, North Korea’s economy has been ravaged by COVID-19 restrictions. Till now, Beijing sustained North Korea’s isolated economy. But the global backlash following the Wuhan virus outbreak has impaired the Chinese economy’s ability to sustain another nation. China-North Korea trade has slid by 75% this year. Closely watching the dramatic fallout in North Korea-China relationship is India- Pyongyang’s second-biggest trading partner.
North Korea-China ties may be getting damaged more quickly than we can imagine. According to data from China’s customs office, North Korea-China trade withered to below $1.7 million in October- a 99 per cent decline for the month compared to last year.
Worst hit is North Korea’s exports of wigs, watches and shoes to China. An official at the Seoul-based Korea International Trade Association said that Chinese exports of food and medical equipment to North Korea also came to a grinding halt in October.
So, Beijing has also stopped supplying food and medical equipment to North Korea. Prices of food staples in the secret-Communist nation of North Korea are said to have quadrupled in recent times. Pyongyang is already unable to trade with the West owing to the tough sanctions imposed by the White House and other democratic powers.
So, North Korea has only one option to consider- New Delhi. India shares a unique relationship with North Korea. Being the largest democracy on the planet, both Seoul and Washington consider New Delhi among the best of their friends. However, India’s special position in the free world doesn’t stop it from getting close to Pyongyang.
New Delhi’s role in the Korean Peninsula dates back to the Korean war of 1950. At a time, when countries across the world were fighting either for the Communist bloc or the Democratic bloc, India was the only one rendering humanitarian and medical aid to both sides. Both Pyongyang and Seoul continue to hold New Delhi in high regard for the role that the Indian State played during the Korean war.
Today, India remains the second-biggest trade partner of Pyongyang, next only to China. India accounts for 3.5 per cent of North Korea’s exports and 3.1 per cent of its imports. Meanwhile, India-South Korea ties have reached new highs in strategic, economic and cultural dimensions.
However, unlike China, India doesn’t use North Korea as a proxy. New Delhi’s trade with Pyongyang may have been subdued by a wave of sanctions against the Communist nation, but the Indian government keeps rendering humanitarian aid to North Korea, by supplying food and medicines to the Communist nation.
Now, with deteriorating North Korea-China trade, India’s importance in Pyongyang will start rising. Moreover, the Kim regime in North Korea might itself start looking at India for securing adequate food and medical supplies.
The trick for India is to keep stepping up supplies of necessaries to Pyongyang, along with more diplomatic interactions. China, on the other hand, will not let North Korea go so easily. The paper Dragon will keep the Kim regime on the tenterhooks. Xi Jinping will keep engaging North Korea, but he will never shower too much of generosity on Pyongyang.
Be that as it may, increased goodwill between New Delhi and Pyongyang will augur well for the free world. Till now, China apologists have argued that Beijing’s cooperation is needed to keep North Korea in check. But if India can play the role of a mediator instead of China, the issue of North Korea denuclearization may get resolved. With China, on the other hand, North Korea’s denuclearization can never be achieved.
China has used North Korea freely till now. But Pyongyang might now take an India-ward turn.