It is necessary to contextualise the North Korean nuclear crisis with regards to Asian geopolitics and its implications for India.

North Korea, crisis, Asia, geopolitics, tenterhooks, missile technology, nuclear state, ramification, adversaries, real nuclear threat, Donald Trump, Third World, Pakistan, quad, international law, US pivot, Indo-Pacific, nuclear weapon, regional balance, China, relief

Pyongyang Opera

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US President Donald Trump’s statement on 20 November where he officially designated North Korea as a ‘state sponsoring terrorism’ following his recent Asia tour has broader political and strategic connotations in the Indo-Pacific region. Notwithstanding the fact that his foreign policy has mostly been transactional in nature, bereft of any consistency, his stance on ‘denuclearising’ North Korea has been one of his persistent motives. A manifestation of this is Trump’s prioritisation of the ‘Global Maximum Pressure Campaign against North Korea’ where he had encouraged all responsible nations to work to compel the North Korean regime to denuclearise.

The campaign along with outlining a trilateral security cooperation amongst US, Japan and South Korea to effectively counter the nuclear aggression, also registers the inclusion of China in its arrangement. This could be underscored in Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s remarks where they have ‘reaffirmed their commitment to achieving complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and stated that they will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state.’


Historically, China had been a staunch ally of North Korea since the Korean war where it had supplied the country with both economic and military assistance.


The preceding declaration shows China reorienting its strategy towards North Korea where at present it had become a nettlesome regional challenge. Historically, China had been a staunch ally of North Korea since the Korean war where it had supplied the country with both economic and military assistance. Tensions surfaced in the bilateral ties when Pyongyang tested a nuclear weapon in 2006 and Beijing supported sanctions based on an UNSC resolution against the country.

Though China had allowed certain punitive measures against North Korea, its measures had been mostly restrained. This was much visible during the recent escalation of the nuclear crisis which drew condemnation from all countries where it had unanimously demanded the North Korean submission as a precondition for any negotiation with the only exception being China and Russia that proposed for ‘freeze and negotiations.’ Here China’s reluctance to rein in its troublesome ally and its attempt to squeeze South Korea over its deployment of missile defense systems as seriously as squeezing North Korea’s was a prominent posture.

Apropos to China’s motivation concerning its strategy towards North Korea, the China-Pakistan-North Korea triad formed the crucial component, where the Pakistan-North Korea nexus that was forged during the 1990s at China’s behest served a convenient route for Beijing to proliferate nuclear weapon and missile technology to these countries. The triad was important in terms of keeping the geopolitical pot simmering in Asia where the three nations acted in concert with each other to advance their respective politico-strategic interest.


Apropos to China’s motivation concerning its strategy towards North Korea, the China-Pakistan-North Korea triad formed the crucial component, where the Pakistan-North Korea nexus that was forged during the 1990s at China’s behest served a convenient route for Beijing to proliferate nuclear weapon and missile technology to these countries.


With regards to China’s objective as Thomas Reed, a former US secretary for Air Force, mentions was to ‘actively promote nuclear proliferation within the Third World’ which in turn would result in multiple nuclear events that would keep the west and specifically the US, on ‘tenterhooks’. Second, it wanted to nuclearise North Korea and Pakistan to manipulate the regional balance of power and also to blunt the strategic end of the possible coalition of the US, Japan and India in the region.

An atypical instance of the Chinese motivation had been to conduct the ‘nuclear threat-by proxy’ strategy conspicuous by its sponsorship of both North Korea and Pakistan’s nuclear programme and its reckless nuclear weapons programmes for sale where China manages to deliver real nuclear threat to its adversaries, while appearing to remain above the fray. A major ramification of this is the nuclear threat posed by nuclear Pakistan on India. In this regard, Pakistan’s prime aim to acquire the nuclear weapons was essentially to dissuade conventionally military-wise superior India through its pugnacious attitude that allowed China to checkmate India.

Amidst the Asian conundrum, it thus renders the necessity to contextualise the North Korean nuclear crisis with regards to the framework of the Asian geopolitics and its implication for India. Here the quad once again comes into the fore. To understand the primacy of the quad, it has been conceived as a conglomeration of likeminded democracies which had been founded on ‘respect for international law and the rules-based order — where its resurrection could be understood in the comprehensive aspect of containing the illiberal motives of China visible through its expansionist aims. Here the quad’s symbolism lies in recognising the potentiality of an Indian leadership in the region, enumerated aptly in US’s pivot to Asia strategy to counter China that terms India as the ‘linchpin’ of regional stability. This is seen in complementarity with India’s position as the power who has the strategic heft to counteract the Chinese belligerence.

So henceforth Pyongyang’s nuclear antics that precipitates crisis in Asia and enhances the confidence of the Pakistani nuclear weapon complex has major repercussions for India which in turn undermines both its national security and the maintenance of the global rules-based order. As had been expressed in multiple scenarios by Indian officials, who stated that the ‘North Korean threat ‘could be considered in light of not only upsetting the regional balance, but also features in a part of new set of Indian concerns encompassing global issues like ‘terrorism by the Islamic state, its capacity to inflict mass casualties and tensions in the South China sea’ that found expression in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark at the 15th India-ASEAN summit. Referencing China’s opposition to the UNCLOS, Modi stated that ‘India assures the ASEAN of its steady support towards achieving a rules-based regional security architecture that best attests to the region’s interests and its peaceful development.’

Thus, in lieu of the existing conundrum in the Indo-Pacific region where an US commitment is no longer considered a prerequisite for the maintenance of an international order, coupled with China’s aggressive posture, an Indian engagement will bring substantial relief. Hence the recent move will benefit India considerably not only on the domestic front but also supplement its vision for a stable and secure Indo-Pacific.


The author is a Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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