A month before Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits South Korea, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Young is arriving in India on Sunday for a two-day visit.
This is the first visit by a North Korean Foreign Minister to India in at least 25 years.
Ri, who was local guardian to North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un during his schooling in Switzerland in the 1990s, is among the few leaders known to wield influence in the secretive kingdom.
He will be meeting External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Vice-President Hamid Ansari. The timing of the visit is interesting, since Modi is overseas, on a trip to France, Germany and Canada.
Ri, a previous North Korean ambassador to Switzerland, is also said to have been in charge of managing the funds of Kim’s father, the late Kim Jong-Il. In his new role, Ri has been very active, making trips to the UN, Russia, Cuba and South East Asian countries.
He is likely to pitch for aid and assistance from India when he meets the Indian political leadership on Monday. However, New Delhi is likely to tread carefully as it may not like to ruffle South Korea ahead of Modi’s visit.
From the Indian side, there hasn’t been a top-level visit to North Korea in at least two decades — Shankar Dayal Sharma visited Pyongyang in 1992 as vice-president.
In 2013, a parliamentary delegation, including the CPM’s Sitaram Yechury and the BJP’s Tarun Vijay, had visited North Korea.
The government has maintained a low-key official level engagement in Pyongyana, with the Indian mission functioning at skeletal staff.
At the diplomatic level, India has always supported six-party talks and peaceful resolution of the dispute in the Korean peninsula.
North Korea has been under economic sanctions for the past decade or so since its clandestine nuclear weapons programme became public.