The Indian tri-colour fluttered in the Seoul city square last weekend, as South Korea marked the 61st anniversary of the war that divided it from the north.
Officials who met the visiting media still had a word of gratitude for Seoul’s war allies including India, which had contributed a medical team and chaired a repatriation commission to resolve humanitarian issues.
Seoul had little to say on Beijing, an economic partner which lies barely a two-hour flight away. While the rival Korean militaries remain on edge — a strategist described the standoff as the worst in 25 years — there is low expectation that China will get the belligerent state on its northeast border to stop spoiling for a fight.
China, the only power with influence over nuclear-armed North Korea, says it hopes for peace on the peninsula.
Since last year, China has remained reluctant to criticise Pyongyang after it torpedoed a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors, and shelled a border island.
Off record, Seoul strategists flatly say that the North’s provocations will continue and they hope for a breach between Beijing and Pyongyang to completely isolate the regime.
A defector, who 17 years ago fled North Korea via Beijing and Hong Kong, predicted that the Pyongyang regime’s relationship with China will ultimately hit a wall.
Myung-chul Cho, who holds the highest official post in Seoul ever given to a refugee, heads the government education centre which promotes unification of the divided nation.
He told journalists about the wife and son he left behind in 1994 when ‘irresistible and uncontrollable anger’ against the regime made him defect. Since his high-profile escape, about 23,000 defectors have sought refuge in South Korea.
China’s Korean peninsula policy aims to prevent any scenario that will send thousands of refugees from an unstable Pyongyang flooding across its border in future.
“The China-North Korea relationship will expand more than ever,’’ said the official. “But eventually it will hit some sort of a wall. China’s interests will have to be aligned with the world.’’ Hardliners in Seoul don’t expect that anytime soon.
But Wikileaks last year revealed hints of China losing patience with its ‘spoiled child,’ and rethinking its stance on Korean reunification.