Event ReportsPublished on Nov 06, 2019
Fifth Yonsei-ORF dialogue in Seoul

The Fifth edition of the dialogue between the   Institute of East and West Studies, Yonsei University and the Observer Research Foundation was held in Seoul on 17 October 2019 at the Iris Hall, Sangnam Institute of Management, Seoul. This year the Dialogue was focused on the “Converging interests of South Korea and India: President Moon’s New Southern Policy and Prime Minister Modi’s Act East Policy”. The Korea Foundation provided the all-important support and encouragement to the on-going Dialogue.

The IEWS-ORF Dialogue alternates between Seoul and New Delhi and this year, it was the turn of the IEWS to organize it. Prof Yong Suhk Pak, Director of the IEWS played a pivotal role in organizing the Dialogue.

The Dialogue had four core sessions excluding the brief inaugural and concluding sessions. In the inaugural session, Prof Pak explained the genesis of the dialogue and how it has picked up momentum over the years to reach the present stage. There were two distinguished keynote speakers who highlighted that both India and South Korea, as natural partners, should deepen their relations in a wide range of spheres. Hyun Cho, who had served in India as ROK’s ambassador, paid compliments to India for having just successfully conducted one of the most massive parliamentary elections thereby demonstrating its firm faith in democracy. Having served in India as ROK’s ambassador, he could see vast areas where the two countries could cooperate to deepen their partnership and contribute to peace and stability in Asia. These hopes and expectations were also echoed in the current Indian ambassador to South Korea Ms Sripriya Ranganathan’s speech.  Considering the two as natural partners, she pointed out how their relations have grown particularly since 2010 when they entered into a strategic partnership.  In 2015 it was upgraded to a special strategic partnership following Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Korea. She then referred to the significant trajectory in the bilateral trade and investment though much still remains to be done. She rightly underlined the vast area of infrastructure and technology cooperation that still remains at a low level. “Korea’s immense investible capital”, she asserted, “is a great match for India which is hungry for capital” to meet its infrastructure development goals.

In the first session, which was devoted to India’s Act East Policy and ROK’s New Southern Policy, there were two main speakers. First, Professor K.V.Kesavan, Distinguished Fellow at ORF, presented a detailed analysis of the evolution of India’s eastward drive from Look East to Act East Policy and explained that the two represented two different but continuing phases in India’s policy in the vast Asia Pacific region. He argued that Prime Minister Modi intensified economic and strategic relations with those countries that shared common concerns with India on the regional strategic uncertainties caused by the dramatic rise of China. According to him, under the Act East Policy, India has fostered significant trade, investment and connectivity linkages with ASEAN, Japan and South Korea. Both Japan and South Korea have become major components in India’s eastward derive. They have signed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements with India which is considered as a significant destination for their private investment. Both Modi and Moon have given a new boost to their relations. There is also a strong realization that the future prospects of their growing relations would be best served in the prevailing peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region. As countries dependent on sea-borne trade, they believe in the inherent right of all countries to freedom of navigation and conduct of lawful commerce in the open sea. They have a shared interest in keeping the Indo-Pacific region open, inclusive, rules-based and free from the dictates of any single country. In a very insightful presentation, Prof Woo Yeal Paik of Yonsei University,   the second speaker, identified the areas where the two counties have cooperative as well as differing approaches.  For instance, given Seoul’s closeness to Beijing, its approaches could differ on Indo-Pacific strategies, Belt and Road Initiative, and also China’s rising profile in the region. But the policies of India and Korea do converge on many issues including the need for a liberal and open regional order, freedom of navigation and open seas. There is , however,  no  doubt that President Moon’s keenness to explore Seoul’s fortunes in India and South Asia is a significant initiative something which no South Korean President had dared to undertake in a serious way.

The second session focused on strengthening maritime ties between India and South Korea. In his presentation, Abhijit Singh, Senior Fellow at ORF examined  the growing trajectory of the bilateral military and naval ties. Not only has the military relationship undergone a significant transformation, he noted, there has been a marked upturn in  naval interactions ever since President Moon Jae-in unveiled his “New Southern Policy” (NSP). Recent years have witnessed growing naval visits, a rise in defence trade, and an intensifying military industrial relationship. The three areas of future growth, he mentioned, were (a) Nontraditional security cooperation (b) maritime infrastructure building and blue economy projects and (c) naval shipbuilding collaboration. South Korea's assistance in all three areas would be invaluable. Singh also brought out the common vision the two countries shared for the Indo-Pacific region. As he characterized it, New Delhi and Seoul seemed to back a collaborative security architecture in the Indo-Pacific region - quite apart from the US’ confrontational posture aimed at alienating China. Yet, there appeared to be a gap between the Indian and South Korean positions on the growing Chinese presence in the Indo Pacific littorals. While Abhijit focused on the PLAN’s expanding footprint in the Indian Ocean Region, Prof Min Gyo Koo of the Seoul National University underlined the resurgence of Japanese sea power and the anxieties it evoked in South Korea’s strategic establishment. China, Prof Gyo Koo noted, did not appear (from a South Korean perspective) to be a war-monger willing to risk the disruptions of war

The third session on technology and energy cooperation between India and South Korea provided an appropriate setting for in-depth discussions on how to take advantage of South Korea’s advanced skills in both spheres. Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow at ORF referred to the strong presence of South Korea in India’s automobile and telecommunication sectors. Hyundai which commands a significant market share in  India has also established one more plant Given their present strong presence, they will play an important role in the spread of electrical and autonomous vehicle in the country. Similarly Samsung, and LG have made their strong footprints in the electronics sector. However Joshi pointed out how India has not been able to exploit the Korean connection in shipbuilding despite strong credentials in that industry. He also saw bright prospects for bilateral cooperatin in the field of defence production given South Korea’s modern and mature defence industrial base.

 Speaking on the prospects of bilateral energy cooperation, Ms. Lydia Powell, Distinguished Fellow, ORF argued that the dependence of both India and South Korea on fuel fossils poses a challenge to them as they attempt to decarbonize their energy systems. Both countries have also invested a great deal in nuclear energy in order to diversify their energy baskets. Even the bilateral civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement they had signed in 2009 has not taken them anywhere indicating clearly the “the inherent contradictions of nuclear power”.  In this context, the speaker suggested that South Korea’s “green growth” initiative could be of considerable relevance to India. Especially, the issue of technological optimism has insights for India in the context of its investment in large scale power generating systems.

In the Fourth session titled India-ROK public relations, discussions were mainly centered on (a) bilateral economic relations and (b) people to people relations. Abhijit Mukhobadhyaya, Senior Fellow at ORF, in his presentation, considered India as a “perfect destination” for South Korean private investment due mainly to three reasons—considerable improvement in the business environment, availability of cheap labour and the presence of a huge consumer pool including a big rural market. Korean companies like the Hyundai, LG, and Samsung have taken cognizance of these favorable factors and made impressive strides in penetrating the Indian market. However, he cautioned that the Korean business managers should also keep in mind the bewildering diversity of India while conducting their business. He also pointed out that that there are still many economic and trade issues that could be resolved under the platform of the CEPA.

Dr Niranjan Sahoo , Senior Fellow at ORF made his presentation on several  hidden and less explored areas where they can deepen their understanding. For example, as robust democracies, they have still not strengthened ‘democracy connect’. He stressed the need for them to not only share their democratic experiences, but also strive to support other countries in Asia in their democratic transition.The author referred to the village movement launched in Korea that could benefit India’s current movement for sanitation and cleanliness. At a popular level, he believed, there should be greater cooperation among private organisations in both countries for popularizing music, films and cuisines. The presentation received strong support from the Korean discussants on the need to strengthen the cultural connect between the two countries.

Finally, Prof K.V. Kesavan in his summing up thanked Prof Yong Suhk Pak and his colleagues of the IEWS, the Korea Foundation and ORF Chairman Sunjoy Joshi for the successful conduct of the 2019 Dialogue. He looked forward to the sixth edition of the Dialogue to be held in New Delhi next year.

Report prepared by Prof K.V.Kesavan with inputs from all ORF paper presenters

Text of speech by Sripriya Ranganathan, the Ambassador of India to ROK
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