India and North Korea are hitting the restart button on their relationship

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The North Korean embassy in New Delhi, India’s capital, does not look particularly inviting.

Housed in a nondescript two-storey building with fading white exteriors , the North Korean embassy is miles away, in all senses, from the swanky Chanakyapuri area where most diplomatic missions are located. The only real sign of movement around the building seems to be the flag fluttering weakly on the roof, which is also the only visible indicator of a North Korean presence.

In fact, the building was the subject of a thread on Reddit, a discussion platform, a few years ago. One user remarked, “This looks like an average coaching institute hostel in New Delhi”.

The dejected state of the embassy is reflective of the current ties between North Korea and India, who first established relations in 1973. However, this might all be about to change.

Following North Korea’s re-entry into the hallways of international diplomacy - marked by a handshake between the leaders of both the Koreas and visits by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo - India seems ready to renew ties with the country.

On May 16th, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) announced that V.K. Singh, the minister of state for external affairs, had embarked on a two-day trip to North Korea- the first such visit by an Indian minister in two decades. The two sides agreed to collaborate in a number of spheres, including education, medicine, agriculture and the promotion of cultural practices like yoga.

The move was actually precipitated by India’s concern over Pakistan’s supposed access to North Korea’s missile technology, strategically phrased as “proliferation linkages in India’s neighbourhood”. The concerns weren’t unfounded. Pakistan and North Korea have a history of cooperation in nuclear technology. For it’s part, North Korea was said to have reassured India that there would be no threats to its security.

The pleasantries exchanged are a sign of progress, more so given the MEA’s condemnation of North Korea’s launch of a nuclear missile in July last year. A few months before, the Indian government had also cut all trade ties with the country, except for food and medicine, in compliance with a UN resolution. Trade between the two countries totalled $133.4 million in 2016-17, a paltry figure for India, but not insignificant for North Korea, since the former was it’s third-largest trading partner.

The visit by V.K. Singh is a tentative start to a renewed relationship. It could be given an even greater impetus if the proposed summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un not only goes through, but proves to be successful in encouraging the denuclearisation of North Korea.

Perhaps then, the North Korean embassy in Delhi will get a makeover.
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