India's medical diplomacy goes beyond COVID-19.
India handed over a consignment of anti-tuberculosis medicines worth $1 million to North Korea on Wednesday.“India is sensitive to the shortage of medical supply situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and decided to grant humanitarian assistance of $1 million in the form of anti-tuberculosis medicines,'' a press release issued by the Embassy of India in Pyongyang stated.
The medical assistance is under the aegis of World Health Organisation's on-going anti-tuberculosis programme in the DPRK, the press release said. The consignment was handed over by Indian Ambassador Atul Malhari Gotsurve in the presence of the WHO representative. "I find that life in Pyongyang is normal. Shops and services are open and so are the universities, schools, factories and offices,'' Gotsurve had said in an interview to an Indian television channel.'
The Indian ambassador had recently made prime time news in North Korea when he presented a floral basket on the occasion of the eighth anniversary of the conferment of the title of Marshal on Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. He also presented a letter of congratulations. An acknowledgment of the basket on national television is a sign that the relationship between the two countries is strong.
One of the largest trading partners with DPRK after China, India is an important player in the country. The ministry of commerce put India’s export to DPRK at $44.99 million and import at $85.39 million during the Financial Year 2016-2017. At a point of time when the relations between India and China are far from rosy, extending support to a close ally of China is also a message to the country.
India has strong links with North Korea and choose to conduct goodwill diplomacy to demonstrate their ties. North Korea had sent $30,000 to India when the Tsunami struck. The ambassador from DPRK presented his credentials to the President of India last month.
Gotsurve is the first foreign service officer to have been posted to the country in many years. His predecessor was a Chinese language interpreter from South Block and a stenographer earlier. The decision to send an IFS level officer was taken a few years ago by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Gotsurve, arrived just a day before General V.K Singh—the first Indian minister to visit DPRK in 20 years arrived. The last time a minister from India was sent to North Korea was in 1998 when the BJP was in power.
Singh's visit came a few weeks after there was the historic ice-breaker summit between the two Koreas and just as Kim Jong-un was to meet President Donald Trump. The tree planted during his visit in May 2018 has now flowered, courtesy a picture on Twitter. The decision to sent Gotsurve to the country was a decisive one, especially as India has strong ties with South Korea.
India had, in the recent years, chose to go public with its relationship with North Korea. In 2015, the foreign minister of North Korea visited India asking for humanitarian aid. The same year Kiren Rijiju visited the Embassy on the occasion of the North Korean Independence Day. India was, however, careful to keep America in the loop too. Former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj is believed to have told former US secretary of state Rex Tillerson that "embassies of some of your friendly countries should remain there so that some channels of communications remain open'', when he suggested that India needed to reduce its presence in North Korea in 2017.