Originally Published 2014-01-20 05:39:16 Published on Jan 20, 2014
In terms of the existing institutional mechanisms, South Korea somewhat lags behind Japan, but one should remember that India-South Korea partnership is only about 40 years old and during this rather short period, what the two countries have achieved is quite remarkable.
Building a multi-faceted Indo-ROK partnership
" Since 1992, India has been vigorously pursuing its "Look East" policy to widen and strengthen its economic and strategic engagements with East Asian countries, including Japan and South Korea. Today both Japan and South Korea are major strategic partners of India. India has signed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements with them which have opened new avenues for accelerating trade and investment ties. Summit meetings between India and these two countries, which take place regularly, have also contributed to strengthening New Delhi's ties with them. For instance, the recent visit made by the Japanese Emperor and Empress provided an unprecedented impetus to Indo-Japanese relations. The upcoming visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the occasion of the Republic Day will further consolidate the steadily expanding Indo-Japanese relations.

The official visit of South Korean (Republic of Korea - ROK) President Park Geun-hye to India during 15-17 January this year should be seen as a significant step in the burgeoning India-ROK partnership. The joint statement they issued at the end of their talks underlined the following three major elements that constituted their vision for India-ROK cooperation - stronger bilateral communication channels in the political and security sphere; creation of more favourable conditions for expansion of trade and investment and promotion of people to people exchanges.

In terms of the existing institutional mechanisms, South Korea somewhat lags behind Japan, but one should remember that their partnership is only about 40 years old and during this rather short period, what the two countries have achieved is quite remarkable. When they established their ambassadorial relations in 1973, they did so against a favourable background like India's key participation in the Korean armistice accord and the following Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (NNRC). Though both countries started building economic ties, it was President Abdul Kalam's visit to Seoul in 2006 that ushered in a new phase in their relations. In 2009, both countries quickly signed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. The next landmark event occurred in 2010 when Korean President Lee Myung-bak made a visit to Delhi and participated as the chief guest in the Republic Day celebrations. His visit also saw the establishment of a strategic partnership between the two countries which has steadily grown since then. In July 2011, Indian President Pratibha Patil made a visit to ROK when both countries signed the civil nuclear cooperation agreement. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Seoul in March 2012 further deepened the strategic partnership between the two and the joint statement he made with his Korean counterpart clearly demonstrated the long-term vision they had for the bilateral partnership.

Both India and South Korea have taken several steps to advance their consultations in the security sphere. In 1996, they set up the India-ROK Joint Commission which is chaired by their respective foreign ministers. Until 2013, it had met seven times alternately in New Delhi and Seoul. In addition, there is also a Foreign Policy and Security Dialogue at the secretary level which has met three times since 2010. Now both Dr Singh and President Park have emphasised the need for holding the Dialogue regularly between the security structures of the two countries. In this context, one should note that in June/July 2013, India's National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon visited Seoul as Dr Singh's special envoy and met the ROK President, defence minister and his Korean counterpart.

Sharing several common values such as democracy, rule of law and human rights, India and ROK participate in many regional and global forums and carry on their mutual consultations. In particular, they have high stakes in the maintenance of peace in the region. They believe in keeping the region multipolar free from the dictates of any single country. Their common interests and concerns cover a wide spectrum of subjects including maritime security, nuclear disarmament, energy cooperation, UN reforms and counter terrorism. The Singh-Park joint statement lays out a long-term road map for the future directions of their partnership.

Defence cooperation

Both countries have established certain consultative mechanisms for promoting bilateral defence cooperation and exchange of visits by their respective defence ministers. India's defence minister A.K. Anthony visited Seoul in 2010 and his Korean counterpart Kim Kwan-jin came to Delhi in 2012. Such visits have also taken place at the service levels. Both countries recognise the great potential for enhanced cooperation in the defence industry. The Joint Committee on Defence Logistics and Industry will be held in the first half of 2014 to carry forward strategic cooperation.

Civil nuclear cooperation

After signing a civil nuclear agreement with New Delhi in 2011, ROK has been keen to sell its nuclear reactors to India. At the time of the visit of President Lee to India in 2012, Seoul broached the subject, but it did not materialse. Perhaps, one reason was that India being unfamiliar with Korean nuclear technologies put a condition that ROK should first build a model reactor for demonstration before supplying the commercial ones. South Korea's interest in the subject has become deeper now as it is competing with Japan in trying to supply nuclear reactors to West Asian and East European countries. South Korea has currently 23 reactors with proposals to build 11 more. The total capacity of the 34 reactors would be 36 billion kilowatts which would be still short of the target of 43 million kilowatts in 2035.It is important to note that there is a strong protest movement led by opposition parties and civilian groups against the government's policy of relying too much on nuclear energy. In an effort to assuage them, the government somewhat reduced the ratio of nuclear energy in the overall national energy mix-up, but it will still account for 22-29%.

Economic relations

Economic relations form the core component of the bilateral relations. There has been a significant surge in India-ROK bilateral trade since they signed the CEPA. Bilateral trade accounted for $20.5 billion in 2011. But now the volume has come down to about $17.5 billion due to global economic downturn. Both countries have set up a target of $40 billion by 2015 and in order to reach this target they have to take effective measures to augment trade. During her visit, both leaders have agreed to upgrade the CEPA to make it work more effectively. So that the volume of trade could be augmented.

Private investment from ROK has registered a steady growth and today it accounts for about $3 billion. Korean companies like Hyundai, LG and Samsung have become household names in India. While they play a major role in automobile and electronics sectors, there are many other areas where Korean investment could be augmented. They are keen to participate in a number of projects involving the construction highways and bridges, ports, airports, power plants and industrial parks For instance, one of the biggest investments by Posco involves the construction of a steel mill in Orissa state. The project if implemented would be perhaps the biggest in the private sector amounting to $12 billion. But unfortunately, the proposal was involved in endless political controversies. The Ministry of Environment has, however, just cleared the project and in their talks, Dr Singh assured President Park that speedy steps would be made to implement it. It is estimated that when completed the POSCO plant will create 870,000 jobs with an annual turnover of $ 3 billion.

Lastly, both Dr Singh and President have strongly emphasised the need for strengthening the cultural dimensions of the partnership. Many important measures like holding cultural festivals, starting cultural centers and introducing advanced courses on India and Korea in many Indian and Korean universities have produced good results and they need to be pursued seriously.

(Prof. K.V. Kesavan is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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K. V. Kesavan

K. V. Kesavan

K.V. Kesavan (1938 2021) was Visiting Distinguished Fellow at ORF. He was one of the leading Indian scholars in the field of Japanese studies. Professor ...

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