Event ReportsPublished on May 30, 2015
The combination of Indian demography, Korean technology, its value for money aspects, and the government support has made Korean companies in India quite successful, according to the Consul-General of the Republic of Korea in Chennai, Mr. Kim Kyungsoo.
South Korea's 'Act West' policy to match India's 'Act East'
South Korea would reciprocate with an ’Act India/Act West’ policy in response to India’s ’Act East’ invitation, says the Consul-General of the Republic of Korea in Chennai, Mr. Kim Kyungsoo.

Mr. Kim was initiating a discussion on "PM Modi’s visit and bilateral relations with South Korea" at the Chennai Chapter of Observer Research Foundation on May 30, 2015.

He said India’s three D’s (Democracy, Demand and Demography) can be met by Korea’s three D’s (Dynamism, Determination and Diligence), bringing the two nations closer together.

Mr. Kim pointed out that the combination of Indian demography, Korean technology, its value for money aspects, and the government support has made Korean companies in India quite successful. He noted that the working culture in Tamil Nadu matches that of the Korea.

Speaking on PM Modi’s visit to his country, Mr. Kim said one must not give too much importance to the bilateral expressions delivered at the end of every summit. The joint communiqué has stated that Korea now shares a "Special Strategic Partnership" with India. Nevertheless, bilateral trade between the two nations stands at a meagre $18 billion.

He said the visit by PM Modi is expected to give a new fillip to the trade ties, hopefully pushing up the economic partnership between the two nations. Modi’s rendezvous with leading Korean businessmen and his detour to the Gimhae shipyard, almost 400 km south of the capital of Seoul, indicates his commitment to the "Make in India" campaign, he said.

Value for money

Speaking on the economic ties, Mr. Kim said that the aggregate demand in Korea has reached saturation and business is dwindling. Korean businesses are scouting overseas for new markets and manufacturing strongholds. "Make in India" is a pragmatic and realistic approach to reinvigorate India’s ailing manufacturing sector, opined Mr. Kim. He cited the example of China, where several multinational companies have set up manufacturing units and built global supply chains.

Korean companies have a significant presence in South India, especially Tamil Nadu. Hyundai’s Chennai manufacturing plant is the company’s key export hub, with transhipments ning Africa, South America and East Asia. Agglomeration of automotive ancillaries around the company has fostered mid and small scale auto-parts industry, thereby creating a vibrant subaltern economy in the Chennai-Sriperumbur belt.

Elaborating further on economic cooperation, Mr. Kim noted that the shipbuilding industry shows tremendous potential for mutual collaboration. L&T has signed an MoU with Hyundai heavy industry and shipbuilding, while Kochi has inked an agreement with Samsung shipbuilding. Collaboration in shipbuilding can further extend to defence cooperation, in sourcing technology equipment from India, such as SONARs for warships. Nuclear submarine technology could be another area for collaboration, albeit in the long term. Korea has a strong track record in nuclear power generation, almost 40 percent of the country’s electricity demand is met by nuclear power. Civilian nuclear technology could be a key sector where India can benefit from Korea’s experience and expertise, observed Mr. Kim.

Mr. Kim noted that Indian investments in Korea have significantly grown over the years. Tata and Tech Mahindra have been major investors in IT and automotive sectors. Tech Mahindra has also acquired majority stake in SsangYong Motor Company. On the consumer goods front, the ’Himalayas’ herbal cosmetics brand is doing well in the Korean market.

People-to-people contact

Despite the limited people-to-people contact and awareness of each other, Korean culture and entertainment programmes have found a big audience in India. India is also known for its quality English education at the elementary and secondary school level. Several residential schools in India have Korean children on their rolls. Another area of people to people exchange is the medical and dental field, Mr. Kim said.

Mr. Kim appreciated the cultural similarities between India and Korea, especially that of South India. Korea and India share deep historical ties. Korean chronicles speak of Princess Ayuta, from Ayodhya, who married the Kaya king Suro. The legend states that she arrived on a boat from a distant kingdom, and married the king in the year 48 CE. She was the first queen of Geumgwan Gaya, and is considered an ancestor by several Korean lineages.

He also highlighted the linguistic ties between Korea and Tamil Nadu; almost 2000 words are common to the Tamil and Korean language. Recent studies by anthropologists have revealed that southern part of Korea may have played a key role in shaping the Korean culture; and, the south historically has had cultural ties across the seas, this opens up the possibility of ties between the Kaya kingdom and Pandya kingdom of South India.

Responding to questions on Korea’s relationship with China and Japan, Mr. Kim said that Korea shares a "Strategic Cooperative Partnership" with Japan and a "Special Cooperative Partnership" with China. China does not pose any imminent threat to Korea; nevertheless Korean people still view the nation with scepticism due to the historical baggage. However, Korea continues to have a healthy and fruitful relationship with China, the bilateral trade between the nations standing at $230 billion.

(This report is prepared by Deepak Vijayaraghavan, Chennai)

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.