Event ReportsPublished on Oct 23, 2017
How to enhance strategic partnership between India and Korea

Observer Research Foundation, in collaboration with Yonsei University’s Institute of East and West Studies, co-hosted the third strategic dialogue in Seoul, Republic of Korea, on August 21 and 22. Held alternatively in Seoul and New Delhi, the dialogue deliberates on areas of mutual convergences between India and South Korea, new developments in the Asia-Pacific region, and specific sectors where both countries can work together.

As India pivots towards the Asia-Pacific through its ‘Act East’ policy, the Yonsei-ORF partnership was established to catalyse this process with one of the key actors in the region – the Republic of Korea. It was conceptualized as a platform to brainstorm ideas for potential cooperation and explore forward-looking solutions for the mutual benefit of both countries. The collaboration between the two institutions began in August 2014 – with the contours of the institutional partnership lucidly outlined by the then Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India in his keynote address. The two institutions remain committed to this endeavour, and the third edition explored the theme, “How to Enhance Strategic Partnership between India and Korea” through a one-day, three-session long discussion.

Discussions of the day commenced with the first session titled, ‘Strategic Partnership in Political Agenda’. Chaired by former Indian Ambassador to South Korea, Mr S. Tayal, this session explored the implications of Indian Prime Minister Modi’s new Act East policy on the India-Korea bilateral relationship.  Expanding on this, Prof. Wooyeal Paik of Yonsei University highlighted the importance of South Korean private sector companies in driving the economic relationship between the two countries. Since the early 1990s – when India first opened up its economy – the larger Korean transnational companies, such as Hyundai, LG and Samsung have been investing in India. With India’s new emphasis on its East Asian neighbours, this relationship seems to have further deepened - perhaps best illustrated by the decision of many of these companies to make India their new manufacturing destination. On the political side, Prof. Paik rightly pointed out the elephant in the room – China. China plays a central role in both India’s and South Korea’s foreign policy considerations. However, he underscored a key divergence here – unlike India, South Korea must consider yet another factor. China appears to be the only global actor that can contain North Korea’s conventional and nuclear threat to South Korea and the region at large. As such, South Korea has tread much more cautiously.

This was followed by a presentation by Prof. K.V. Kesavan, Distinguished Fellow, ORF. He provided a critical framing to the discussion by tracing the bilateral relationship between the countries and the key developments that have shaped the forty-four year old diplomatic relationship. He highlighted the deepening defence cooperation and delved into recent developments: the new elevated relationship – the “special strategic partnership, and South Korea’s participation in the Make-in-India initiative. Concluding his presentation, Prof. Kesavan outlined areas that merit enhanced strategic cooperation – such as maritime security, the issue of freedom of navigation, cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region, and most importantly, greater cooperation on nuclear disarmament in the context of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Chaired by Prof. Yeon Ho Lee of Yonsei University, the second session of the dialogue went on to analyse the India-South Korea relationship from an economic lens. Ms. Jayshree Sengupta, Senior Fellow, ORF opened the session with her presentation titled, ‘Prospects and Challenges in India-Korea Trade and Investment’. This was followed by Prof. Doowon Lee’s presentation on ‘Potential of Korea-India Economic Cooperation’. The session analysed the trends in the bilateral trade and investment relationship, particularly post the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which was signed in January 2010. It highlighted the growing volume of trade between the two countries. Yet, India seems to be importing far more that what it exports. In the forward-looking spirit of the dialogue, the speakers explored and stressed on the trade complementarity. Prof. Doowon Lee, through a highly detailed matrix, highlighted this aspect. For instance, dairy, meat, cereals and straw feature among India’s top 20 exports. These same items feature in Korea’s bottom 20. Similarly, while South Korea has a comparative advantage in items such as lead, electrical machinery, India industry is yet to take off in these sectors.

The final session of the dialogue dealt with the business agenda, which was moderated by Professor Young-Ryeol Park, Yonsei University. The first presentation of the session, by Tanoubi Ngangom, Associate Fellow, ORF, analysed the India-Korea economic and business ties through a regional perspective. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – which is scheduled to finalize by end of 2017 – represents a one-of-a-kind mega regional trade pact amidst an increasingly inward looking global economic system. As such, it must be conceptualised as an Asia-led norm building platform – rather than just a trade and investment pact. How can India and South Korea partner within the RCEP to create norms for the rest of the world? And how can the large divergences in the economic realities of both countries be synergised to create balanced normative frameworks for the developed and the developing world?

The second speaker of the session was Prof. Young-Ryoel Park from the Yonsei University. He highlighted the symbiotic relations between India and Korea as business partners. In a global economic landscape that is largely slowing down, India represents, what he called, a bright spot – as one of the largest markets. This in turn means that India holds significant promise for South Korean investors. He went on to demonstrate this trend – through the increasing Korean investments in major hubs like New Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai. For instance, Korean multinationals such as Samsung Research Institute, LG software India and Hyundai Rotem are already engaging with the IT companies of India’s silicon valley – Bangalore.

The last speaker of the day was Mr. S. Tayal, who provided a well-rounded framing of the Indian business landscape, and the specific sectors where South Korea can enter into. Under the Indian government’s nationwide Make-in-India initiative, he pointed out certain areas where Korea already has significant expertise like innovation, the smart cities project and the Digital India campaign.

Many other stakeholders also participated in the discussion. These included a representative from the Indian embassy in South Korea, Bernhard Seliger, Resident Representative at the Hanns Seidal Foundation, Professor Soonkyoo Choe, Yonsei University, and Professor Jooyoung Kwak , Yonsei University.

Mr Cho Hyun, present Deputy Foreign Minister and former ROK’s ambassador to India, delivered the valedictory address at the end.  The President of the CJ Logistics, one of the leading South Korean multinationals functioning in the Indian market, also addressed the meeting.

It was decided to hold the next edition of the Dialogue in New Delhi on a date suitable to both sides.

At a time when North Korean nuclear and missile tests are posing serious threats to South Korea and other neighbouring countries, Yonsei University arranged a visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) for ORF delegates. The visit brought out the seriousness of the extremely delicate relations that exist between North and South Korea.

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