Expert Speak Energy News Monitor
Published on Nov 18, 2021
Both India and South Korea stand to gain strategically and economically from the deepening of people-to-people ties.
Connecting people and deepening ties: India-South Korea relations The recent Korean drama Squid Games has broken all Netflix records and left its audience in awe. While all the drama actors are earning praises for their impactful performance, a Korea-based Indian actor, Anupam Tripathi, is gaining a little extra affection from the fans due to his portrayal of an innocent and soft-spoken Pakistani migrant worker, Ali, in the drama. The success of Squid Games and the casting of Anupam Tripathi has brought India and South Korea closer. Usually, South Asian actors play minor roles of migrant workers, and even Anupam Tripathi had to play many such roles. Nonetheless, it can be assumed that after Squid Games, South Asian actors would have more chances of playing significant roles in Korean movies and dramas.

People-to-people ties drive cultural understanding

People-to-people ties help build a cultural understanding. Indian cultural organisations, Indian Cultural Centre (ICC), and Indian restaurants serve as important junctures, where Koreans and Indians interact and understand each other's cultures personally. In 2011, the ICC was established in Seoul to “showcase India's rich cultural heritage and promote cultural exchanges” between India and South Korea. Located just across the Embassy of India, ICC organises ‘International Day of Yoga’, ‘Tagore Jayanti’, ‘Gandhi Jayanti’, festivals of India, etc., to promote Indian culture in South Korea. ICC also conducts Hindi, Kathak, and Bollywood dance classes for its Korean students. Such activities provide a platform for Koreans to interact with Indians and understand the vibrant culture. Apart from this, the Indian community in Korea is increasing gradually. As of 2019, about 13,236 Indians are living in South Korea. The Indian community consists of students, workers, businesspeople, scholars, etc. Many Indians study in Korean universities—Ewha Womans' University, Yonsei University, Seoul National University, Korean University—with the help of scholarships like POSCO Asia fellowship and KGSP. Some Indians living in Korea have also formed various associations to celebrate festivals. For example, the Indian Student Association at SNU celebrates Ganesh Chaturthi every year and invites their Korean colleagues, professors, and friends. Also, several Indians moved to South Korea, learnt Korean, and opened their businesses to sustain themselves in the expensive city of Seoul. Today, many Indian restaurants host Koreans, especially during weekends. Former Ambassador Skand Tayal mentions that the iconic ‘Ashoka’ restaurant became the first authentic Indian restaurant to serve Indian food in Korea. Now, other Indian restaurants such asTaj Mahal’, ‘Ganga’, ‘Chakra’, etc., have emerged, helping Koreans overcome their cultural biases and bringing them closer to the Indian culture. Although the proportion of Korean diaspora living in India is smaller, they share meaningful relations with the Indian community. Many Koreans choose India as a viable destination for their children's education. In an interview, the Consular General of South Korea, Kyungsoo Kim, mentions that since not all families can afford to send their kids to America, they send their children to India to learn English and live affordably. In this way, many Koreans interact with Indians from an early age and develop an interest in Indian culture. Additionally, Ambassador Tayal states that Korean students enrol themselves in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Delhi University for higher studies. Korean students coming from Korea bring their culture with them. The impact of the Korean wave or Hallyu can be seen throughout the lanes of Majnu ka Tila, in Delhi, which are filled with Korean food, especially ramen, cosmetics, electronic gadgets, and K-pop items. Many Korean restaurants and cafés such as Little Seoul, Busan, Gung The Palace, and Kori's are opened to offer Korean cuisine. A lot of Indians are also learning Taekwondo and the Korean language from professional Korean teachers. The Korean Cultural Centre in Delhi regularly conducts Korean activities such as mask making, kimchi making, Korean movie screening, language classes, etc. Moreover, the Centre for Korean studies at JNU organises Hangeul day every year to commemorate the invention of Korean alphabets and promote Korean culture to Indians.

People-to-people ties as a driver of meaningful and vibrant relationships

People-to-people connections built through cultural understanding help sustain relations between two countries. The increased cultural exchanges between South Korea and India have developed a feasible environment for businesses to flourish. As acceptance of the Korean culture has increased demand for Korean products, a wide variety of Korean stores such as BECCOS, Innisfree, etc., have opened in India. The growing interest in Korean culture, i.e., K-pop, K-drama, snacks, and skincare, has resulted in huge sales of Korean products in India. For instance, Seo Young Doo, founder of Korikart, came to JNU to study international relations. He recognised the craze for Korean products in India and launched an e-store of Korean products in 2018. Likewise, Indians moving to work in Hyundai, Samsung, LG, etc., are now finding it easier to live in Korea due to increased appreciation of Indian culture amongst South Koreans. It has now become evident for South Koreans to eat Biriyani and dance to the rhythm of Bollywood. Firstpost writes that if ties are based only on economic gains, they will break soon after their goals are met. But a cultural affiliation based on people-to-people connection acts as a glue to bind the relationship and prevents it from cracking. To explain this, in 2014, a Korean naval ship, ‘Choi Yeong,’ had to be docked in Kerala due to some technical issues. Consular General Kyungsoo Kim recalled the incident and stated that the Korean crew was impressed with Indian hospitality, which is imbibed in their culture. That incident paved the way “for conducting joint military naval exercises” between India and Korea. In this way, personal interaction between the Korean ship members and Indian authorities set the background for establishing formal policies between India and South Korea. In 2015, India and South Korea established a Special Strategic Partnership, where they committed themselves towards defence, trade, investment, science and technology, culture, and people-to-people exchanges. Furthermore, in 2017, President Moon Jae-in launched the New Southern Policy (NSP), in sync with India's Act East Policy (AEP). Several factors contribute to this synergy such as shared harmony, economic engagement, and the rise of China. NSP helps South Korea in diversifying its market and lessening its economic dependency on China. Likewise, AEP helps India find new partners for economic integration and reinvigoration of cultural ties in the Asia-Pacific region. Such synergy of policies between India and Korea has helped enhance the historical connection that was neglected before. The Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms) talks about the marriage of Princess of Ayodhya, Suriratna, or Heo Hwang-ok with King Kim Suro, establishing a shared historical link between the two countries. In 2018, the first lady of South Korea, Kim Jung-sook, celebrated Diwali in Ayodhya, and her visit revived the ‘deep’ connection between the two countries. Since the visit, the relations between the two countries have been thriving as India began a visa on arrival facility for South Koreans. Equally, the synergy of NSP and AEP deepens people-to-people connections in India and Korea. For instance, Samsung opened a major mobile phone factory in Noida, resulting in the opening of several Korean restaurants in Noida. The restaurants host both Koreans and Indians and provide opportunities for cultural exchanges.


People-to-people ties are both product and driver of India-South Korea ties. Until a few years back, South Korea was just a tiny country on the world map for Indians, and South Koreans used to confuse India with Indonesia, but as time passed, both countries became closer due to people-to-people ties and the synergy of their foreign policies. Furthermore, with NSP and AEP, economic and cultural exchanges between Indians and Koreans are increasing. Such interactions are helping Indians and Koreans overcome their cultural biases and forge deeper ties to help propel their foreign policies. Connection through shared interests reduces mental gaps and forms a common cultural ground, which helps countries to develop a strong bonding. Thus, relations through formal policies and meaningful interactions can bring India and South Korea closer to support each other in times of need.
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