Event ReportsPublished on Jul 16, 2016
India can learn a lot from Korea: Former Foreign Secretary

India’s former Foreign Secretary Shashank has said that India could learn extensively from the Republic of Korea which has achieved impressive growth and success. Mr. Shashank, who had served as ambassador to Korea, was delivering the keynote address at the Second ORF-Yonsei University dialogue, hosted by ORF in New Delhi on June 24, 2016.

Mr. Cho Hyun, the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to India, stressed on Korea’s support for India’s NSG membership, and also the importance of Yonsei University’s growing interest to deepen its relations with key Indian universities.

The Dialogue, Prospects of Regional Cooperation: India and the Republic of Korea, was attended by academics, scholars from think tanks, and students. The conference covered three main sessions — Regional integration in the Asia-Pacific and India ROK Partnership, India-ROK economic ties and Technology and innovation cooperation between India and the ROK.

Welcoming the participants, Prof. K. V. Kesavan, Distinguished Fellow, ORF, noted that the India-ROK relationship, which initially focused extensively on economic relations, has now over a period of time expanded to cover a broad spectrum of issues, including counter terrorism, maritime security, energy cooperation etc. Prof. Yeonho Lee from Yonsei University also reiterated the same, while emphasising how Yonsei University has been a gateway for India in terms of academics and other areas. He stressed on the importance of the link between Yonsei University and the ORF, and the need to continue to work together to promote stronger ties.

The first session on the ‘Regional Integration in the Asia-Pacific & India Republic of Korea Partnership’ was chaired by Mr. S. Tayal, former Ambassador of India to ROK. Giving the first presentation Prof. K.V. Kesavan highlighted that in about 20 to 25 years, the region is likely to witness a power transition from the USA to China. With China being the largest trading partner of most East Asian countries and its ever growing military strength, Beijng could be a cause for many challenges in the region; but it could also be a solution to many regional issues. In light of these changes, he underscored the growing importance of the ROK-India partnership. Both countries now share a Special Strategic Partnership, and from this year onwards there will be annual summits being held between the two states.

Concurring with Prof. Kesavan on the US-China equilibrium in the Asia-Pacific, Prof. Lee stated that South Korea has now reached a crossroads in deciding between Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). He further questioned South Korea’s strategy to tackle this dilemma, as its interdependence with China is quite high, while Prof. Lee was uncertain about the gains that One Belt, One Road (OBOR ) can provide South Korea. According to him, to make the OBOR impact on Korean peninsula positive, the Northern Sea Route (NSR) is a new opportunity and a strategic alternative that South Korea is studying at the moment. Professor Lee concluded by saying that South Korea needs to maintain a balance between China and the US as it needs both the nations at the same time and the use of NSR as a strategic alternative to Korea is highly important.

Prof. Young-Ryeol Park from Yonsei University started the second session focusing his presentation on trade and investment between Korea and India. He highlighted the increases in the trade volume between the two nations, the main reasons being attributed to the various successful trade talks between the nations and signing of trade partnerships. Prof. Park assessed three major Korean companies and their strategies adopted in the Indian market — while LG and Hyundai have achieved relatively good success in India, Daewoo on the other hand failed too. He believes that Hyundai executives conducted exhaustive research on the market in India prior to their arrival, and thus their products showed great understanding of the poor road conditions in India and the high temperatures. However, Daewoo suffered due to lack of market research and understanding of the Indian context and culture. Concluding his presentation, Prof. Park emphasised the crucial themes that are essential for the success of any company entering the Indian market — communicating with the members of the company, cooperation with the employees and subsidiary firms and most importantly connecting with Indian society.

Prof. Park’s counterpart, Dr. Sanjaya Baru highlighted that despite relatively successful trade relations, the big challenge for Korea is to now take the partnership to the next level. Till now, Korea has effectively taken advantage of the economic situation in India. Post 1992, Korea’s export growth model coupled with India’s economic liberalisation made for the perfect synergy for Korea to take advantage of and enter the market successfully. Though India-Korea relations were stagnant for some time after 1998, due to the focus on the part of Korea on Asian economic integration where India was left behind, there has been some renewed vigor since then. There is therefore now a need on the part of the Korean side to reassess their presence in the market with respect to the changing economic scenario.

The third session of the dialogue focused on Technology and innovation cooperation between India and the ROK. Mr. Swagat Bam, Senior Advisor at ORF, began the discussion on the topic of the energy scenario in India by stating that both India and the Republic of Korea are “energy deficient countries”, also labeling energy “the only sector that has underperformed for both countries”. Mr. Bam pointed out that India now is similar to what Korea was in the 1980s, where the ROK had two decades of sustained growth at a rate of 8% on average, sometimes reaching as high as 18%. ROK, he stated, is the second largest LNG importer in the world, and so can have much to gain from investing in Indian energy sector. Mr. Bam also highlighted key areas that offered opportunities for cooperation between the two countries — oil and gas pipelines, exploration blocks, gas platforms and LNG terminals, which Mr. Bam believes would be an ideal investment for Korea as they have a thriving shipping industry which could make for an efficient two-way partnership.

Prof. Taesun Park of Yonsei University, an expert in Food and Nutrition Sciences, began her talk with some facts about Korea’s research and development industry. Korea ranks first in the list of countries with the greatest R&D expenditure per unit GDP, in addition to boasting a $17 billion USD annually for licensing out, start-ups and intellectual property rights. Prof. Taesun Park recently invented on an anti-obesity drug that has passed clinical trials and is now looking to clear the second phase. Pointing to the sheer scale of research and creativity at Yonsei University — Yonsei has 16 subsidiaries within its research and development department, she concluded by saying that India, despite having several outstanding institutes, is behind in technology commercialization as many universities underfund their R&D ventures.

Concluding the conference, Prof. Kesavan and Prof. Lee agreed on the need to widen and strengthen the bilateral partnership and saw immense possibilities in defense cooperation, ship-building, climate change, civil nuclear technology, education and regional connectivity. Both stressed the need to continue the Dialogue and agreed to hold the next meeting in Seoul at a convenient date.

This report was prepared by Ayushi Sharma, Ishita Naithani and Arjun Sangwan, Research Interns, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.