India South Korea Relations: Changing Trajectory

The Foreign Minister of South Korea Kang Kyung-wha was on a two day visit to India with a high level delegation. The main agenda of the visit was the 9th India Korea Joint Commission Meeting which took place between Kang Kyung-wha and the Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. This visit of Ms. Kang Kyung-wha is a natural extension of the ongoing stronger bilateral relations that has emerged between the two countries after the relationship was elevated to ‘Special Strategic Partnership’ during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Republic of Korea in 2015.

The bilateral relation between the two nations has seen considerable headway this year. Republic of Korea’s President Moon Jae-in visited India in July. The discussion that time had centred around economic and defence engagements and both the leaderships had proclaimed that the future of the partnership between India and South Korea would rest on three P’s (People Peace and Prosperity). The emphasis on people gave a momentum to the relations by drawing upon people of both the nations to engage in multifaceted activities which would enable closer ties.

Historical ties with Korea, rests on the legend that a Princess from Ayodhya (in Uttar Pradesh) named Suriratna known in Korea as Heo Hwang-ok travelled to Korea and married the Korean King. Anchoring on this historical connection, South Korean First Lady, Kim Jung-sook visited Ayodhya last month and laid the foundation for a park in name of Princess Suriratna.

Ms. Kang and Mrs. Swaraj’s meeting also focused discussion on the areas identified and initiated during visit of President Moon Jae-in. Major areas of involvement were economic engagements, defence and other functional cooperation.

Addressing the complementary aspects of India’s ‘Act East Policy’ and Republic of Korea’s ‘New Southern Policy’, both the Ministers reiterated the natural synergy that drives this relation to ascertain free, open, peaceful rule-based order in the wider region including the Indo-Pacific which is becoming a contested area in the international community. Expressing concerns over the domestic matters of Republic of Korea, India’s External Affairs Minister assured full support to Seoul on the nuclear issue and promotion of inter-Korean ties, through dialogue and negotiations so that the Korean peninsula can witness peace and stability.

Given the agenda of raising the bilateral trade between the two nations from US$ 20 billion in 2017-18 to US$ 50 billion by 2030, both Ministers concluded that revisiting and upgrading of Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) along with the implementation                                   

of trade expansion already under consideration would broaden and deepen trade ties between both countries.

Furthering economic involvement through Korean investment in infrastructure development of India is a new window which too was discussed. Given the acumen of Korean companies in these industries, the partnership is envisaged to intertwine with India’s flagship programmes ‘Make in India’, ‘Skill India’  ‘Digital India’ and ‘Smart City’.

An equally important sector for both the countries is the energy sector, which was under purview as both the nations are energy dependent and a reliable and secure supply of conventional energy is important for economic progress. Thus a safe passage of oil through the sea lanes of communication (SLOC) is of concern for India and more so for Korea. New Delhi asked Seoul to join the International Solar Alliance, an effort of solar resource rich countries, lying fully or partially between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, with an unprecedented opportunity to bring prosperity, energy security and sustainable development to their peoples. The potential for cooperation in both non-renewable and renewable energy is significant and a consultative process of this kind could help serve mutual interests.

This new dynamics in Indo-Korean relations is thus reflective of Seoul’s attempts to adjust the ‘new’ regional realities, and in turn, is scripting a new narrative of the bilateral relations. Meetings of this nature will be witnessed more often in the years to come.

Script: Prof. Srabani Roy Choudhury, Centre For East Asian Studies, JNU