The present crisis in the Korea is an opportunity for India to thoughtfully engage in the region, and not to be a mere spectator. India enjoys a great degree of credibility by all the stakeholders in the region including the two Koreas, and China and as such India should play its persuasive role for peace and stability in the region, says Rup Narayan Das
At a time when a crisis of some proportion looms on the Korean peninsula, it is heartening that External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid recently met his North Korean counterpart Pal Ui-Chuan on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Brunei.
For long India has refrained from showing any unsolicited and undue interest in the region to avoid being misunderstood, but when Pyonyang desired a meeting South Block obliged. It was India’s second direct engagement with Pyongyang in recent past. Earlier a team of diplomats led by joint secretary (east) in the ministry of external affairs Gautam Bambawale visited Pyongyang.
It is worthwhile in this context to recall India’s calibrated diplomatic engagement in the region in the nascent years of India’s independence. To put the issue in perspective, it may be mentioned that at the Yalta Conference in 1945, the KoreanPeninsula was divided between the North Korea under the USSR and the South Korea under USA at the 38 parallel under two separate governments.
On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel, alleging intrusion by South Korea’s US supported army. The US called for an emergency session of the UN on June 27 and a resolution was passed for collective action against the North Korean invasion. Immediately thereafter, India articulated its nuanced position as early as on June 29 and an emergent session of Parliament was convened on July 31.
Addressing the members of Indian Parliament and articulating India’s position with regard to the emergent situation in the Korean Peninsula, then President Dr Rajendra Prasad said that it had been India’s policy not to submit to aggression, for submission, in any part of the world, was to invite its repetition in other parts and thus to imperil peace and freedom.
While India supported the first two resolutions of the Security Council in regard to the conflict in Korea, New Delhi made it clear that it would continue to pursue an independent policy based on the promotion of world peace as determined by its ideals and objectives. India thus opposed the third Security Council Resolution that transferred its powers of military coordination to Washington.
Conscious of the threat to world peace inherent in the continuation of the conflict and because of the possibility of its extension, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru appealed to Joseph Stalin of the Russian federation and United States Secretary of State Dean Acheson to exert their influence and authority to localise the armed struggle in the peninsula and to break the deadlock in the Security Council over the admission of the People’s Republic of China so that the extant international tension might be eased and the way opened to a solution of the Korean problem by discussion in the Security Council.
Initiating a discussion on the Korean situating in the Lok Sabha on August 3, Nehru said that India had a tremendous responsibility on the issue, “not that India, as she is constituted today, can play or does play a very important part in the world affairs.”
He further said, “Those countries which have big battalions or economic and money powers play a big part. We have neither big battalions nor money powers. So we do not play any big part and we do not claim to play any big part. But whether we play a big part or a small part, inevitably we have to play a part and in that totality of circumstances that arise even that little part may count, and I believe it does count.”
Nehru was of the firm belief that without the People’s Republic of China being a member of the UN Security Council, there could not be any solution to the impasse in the peninsula. Therefore, he strongly pleaded in Parliament, “As a result of China not being admitted into the United Nations and the representative of Kuomintang regime being there, the house knows that the USSR and some of their friendly countries, more or less, walked out of the various organs of the United Nations, more especially from the Security Council.”
So Nehru arguably can be said to be one of the earliest world statesman, who sincerely wanted the Communist China to be one of the responsible stake holder in global governance, a fact which the world now recognises.
Nehru didn’t rest with mere platitude. He did initiate a draft proposal for cessation of hostilities in the Korean peninsula. According to recent study by Robert Barnes of International History Department of London School Economics and Political Science (The Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol 33, No 2, April 2010), who accessed the transcript of the conversation available with National Archives of the United Kingdom between Gordon Walker with the then Indian High Commissioner to UK Krishna Menon, Nehru proposed a ceasefire at the 38th Parallel, the creation of a demilitarised zone, and the prospect of negotiations with the PRC on Korea and Taiwan after the cessation of hostilities.
Achson didn’t find Nehru’s proposal acceptable in totality and reworked it and proposed that the president of the UN General Assembly, along with two people he would designate, be empowered to confer with the Unified Command and the PRC to determine the basis for a ceasefire. India thus co-sponsored a 13 member Arab- Asian proposal incorporating Achson’s input for a cease-fire Committee. The said proposal was passed in the UN General assembly in spite of opposition by the Soviet bloc.
A cease-fire committee was constituted under the chairmanship of the president of the general assembly Nasrollah Entezam of Iran with the former Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson and India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Benegal Rau. India’s independent and objective stance on the Korean issue and its exemplary behaviour at UN had indeed endeared India to China which greatly facilitated better communication between Rau and China’s Special Representative at the UN General Wu-Hsiu-chuan.
While at the UN Rau skilfully played his role, India’s ace diplomat and ambassador in Beijing K M Pannikar was Nehru’s point man, who conveyed Zhou-Enlai’s message to the US in the absence of diplomatic channel. Zhou- Enlai in fact invited Rau to his home in Zhongnanhai. Han Suyin writes in her biography of Zhou Eldest Son, “Nehru was exultant, and Zhou’s profuse thanks for India’s attitude on the Korean war contributed to a feeling that the two countries might create a solid relationship, to the greatest benefit of Asian solidarity.”
The present crisis in the Korea in fact is an opportunity for India to thoughtfully engage in the region, and not to be a mere spectator. India enjoys a great degree of credibility by all the stakeholders in the region including the two Koreas, and China and as such India should play its persuasive role for peace and stability in the region.
Rup Narayan Das is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.