Event ReportsPublished on Aug 14, 2019
In recent years, both nations have displayed a renewed focus and prioritisation of establishing strong relationships with each other and the neighbouring ASEAN countries.
Exploiting the untapped potential in India-Korea partnership

India and Korea have had long historical relations ning many centuries; yet their partnership in recent years contains immense untapped potential, something both countries are actively looking to alter. Especially over the last couple of decades, the importance of rebuilding, strengthening, and deepening bilateral ties between the two countries have been increasingly recognised. As two of the top five economies in a continent filled with potential for growth and further opportunities, these two countries can make significant gains and mutual benefits through increased collaboration. This was discussed during the symposium “Towards Building a More Robust India-Korea Partnership” organised by ORF in New Delhi. The speakers included Sunjoy Joshi, Chairman of ORF; Chung Eui-hae, Policy Coordinator of the ROK’s Presidential Committee on New Southern Policy; Kim Ki-wan, Managing Director of LG India; Prof. K.V. Kesavan, Distinguished Fellow at ORF; Vivek Sonny Abraham,Vice President of Invest India; Shin Bongkil, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to India; and Suresh Reddy, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs, the Government of India.

In recent years, both nations have displayed a renewed focus and prioritisation of establishing strong relationships with each other and the neighbouring ASEAN countries. Both feel the pressure of influence exerted by China. India and ASEAN trade was only $72 billion in 2017, dwarfed by the Chinese-ASEAN trade of $452 billion. The Republic of Korea, whose exports are heavily dependent on China and the United States, also seeks to establish alternative trade structures in the region, not only to reduce its reliance on the former but also to further expand its scope of cooperation. To achieve this, President Moon Jae-in’s government unveiled the New Southern Policy to deepen relations with ASEAN and India. The New Southern Policy emphasises the “3P” community: People, Prosperity, and Peace. With a “people first” mindset, the government hopes to increase trade with this region to establish symbiotic prosperity. Additionally, given the abnormal atmosphere on the Korean peninsula, the Republic of Korea hopes to build an alliance of nations in both South and North Korea to help promote communication in the region, keeping in mind the goal of attaining denuclearisation on the peninsula and greater peace for the East Asian region as a whole.

Similarly, since 2014, India has been seeking deeper involvement with its Eastern neighbours to reduce dependence on its Western counterparts, namely through the “Act East Policy,” an intensification of attempts from previous decades to further integrate with ASEAN countries in terms of trade, connectivity, and security. The focus of this policy can be simplified into the “3C’s,” Culture, Connectivity, and Commerce. India’s close geographic proximity and cultural similarities with many of these nations give it a huge advantage in conducting trade with them. Both countries recognise that the Asia-Pacific region, with many developing economies in need of investment to fuel growth, holds great importance for the future of the world trade, communication and transport, among other things. The importance of Indo-Korean relations has been amply underscored in recent years especially under both current governments. President Moon’s visit to India in July 2018 was a landmark in their diplomatic relations and PM Modi’s second official visit to Seoul in February 2019 further cemented their relations.

ORF Chairman, Sunjoy Joshi kicked off the discussion, laying emphasis on how both nations seek a relationship that goes beyond just trade and investment. Security, connectivity, developing infrastructure, and investing in human capital both in India and the Asia-Pacific region would greatly benefit the region. The concentration of emerging economies, guided by the current emerging global leaders in Asia (including South Korea and India), shows how important the Asia-Pacific region is for the future of the global economy.

Ambassador Bongkil spoke in great detail about the status of the current relationship as well as the new frontiers to which it can be taken. India and Korea have been talking about developing a billion dollar fund to support digital connectivity among ASEAN countries, seek to address the narrowing development gap in the continent, and talk seriously about partnering in joint ventures in third countries such as Afghanistan. A symbiotic relationship between India and Korea can help reduce shortcomings either nation faces on its own, and together can help lead the rest of the continent onto their path of success as well, all in a culture of shared democratic values and a focus of maintaining peace in the region.

Coordinator Chung Eui-hae spoke next, representing the President’s Committee for the New Southern Policy. She made a very pertinent reference to the growing trade frictions Korea faces with the United States and China, one of the motivating factors behind drafting the New Southern Policy. Reducing dependence on a China-centered supply chain and following the migration of manufacturing in Asia away from China and towards India and other emerging economies in the region, would make India as an alternative to China. Kim Ki-Wan spoke about his experiences of managing the Korean giant LG India. While large Korean businesses, like LG and Samsung, have found great success in the Indian market, it is the small and medium scale enterprises that face many challenges operating in India with all its diversities.

Taking the cue from these speakers, both Suresh Reddy and Vivek Sonny Abraham made detailed presentations and provided some rare insights into various aspects of India-South Korea diplomatic and economic relations.

In his closing remarks, K.V. Kesavan pointed out that both India and South Korea have come a long way to build a vibrant multidimensional partnership encompassing many converging economic and strategic interests. However the full potential of their ties is yet to be tapped, he commented.

It is crucial that through discussions like this symposium, India can overcome some of its policy deficiencies and make appropriate measures to attract more Korean investment and make the partnership more robust. If the two are aiming to achieve their goal of increasing their bilateral trade to $50 billion by 2030 they must have a long-term vision to work systematically towards the target. The synergy between President Moon’s New Southern Policy and PM Modi’s Act East Policy can provide new opportunities for deepening their relations and make the partnership a significant element contributing to the evolving regional economic and security architecture of the Indo-Pacific.

This report is prepared by Shreyas Vasudevan, Research Intern, ORF New Delhi.
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