India Cements Stronger Ties With South Korea

The momentum and enthusiasm with which India’s Act East Policy was launched in 2014, has not only remained strong but has also led to deeper engagements with even the wider Indo-Pacific region. That Prime Minister Narendra Modi has led the Act East policy from the front is demonstrated in his recent visit to Seoul.

Mr. Modi was on a two-day visit to Seoul, which was his first foreign trip of the year. The Indian Prime Minister’s visit was aimed at enhancing political engagement as also scaling up the strong business-to-business ties between the two countries.

His visit also touched upon the centrality of ‘peace’ in the world, which was manifested in two issues. The year 2019 is the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of our Nation who is equally revered in South Korea-a peace-loving democratic country. To mark the occasion, Prime Minister Modi unveiled Bapu’s bust at the Yonsei University in Seoul.

During his visit Mr. Modi received the Seoul Peace Prize conferred to him by the Seoul Peace Prize Foundation. According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the award is “in recognition of his dedication to improving international cooperation, raising global economic growth, accelerating the Human Development of the people of India by fostering economic growth in the world’s fastest growing large economy and furthering the development of democracy through anti-corruption and social integration efforts.” Clearly, India is known for the values Bapu wanted to inculcate in India and its entire people; and both the events demonstrate the cardinal importance of Gandhiji and his values of peace, sustainable development, and non-violence.

Six agreements were inked during the Prime Ministerial visit. One agreement that requires special mention is on “Start Up” cooperation.  Under the aegis of the agreement, Korea Start-up Centre will be set up in India. South Korea is a leading country in innovative technology. It is an important economic partner of India. The two-way trade has increased from US$ 16.67 billion in 2013-14 to US$ 20.82 billion in 2017-18. Seoul’s investment in India has already seen an upward swing with the ‘Make in India’ campaign. In the last four years, South Korea has invested US$ 250 billion in India.

 South Korea is an immensely important partner to India. The Special Strategic Partnership between the two countries was signed during Mr. Modi’s South Korea visit in May 2015. The visit is significant for India on several grounds. It was the Indian Prime Minister’s first foreign visit after the Pulwama terrorist attack, and could be, the last before the next General Elections due in May 2019. This visit is instrumental in securing South Korea’s support in India’s fight against terrorism. In fact, South Korea has always been committed towards the concerted efforts towards counter-terrorism. India-South Korea Joint Statements have always found a mention of a need to combat terrorism.

Also, regular interaction and exchange of visits are an indication towards Indo-South Korea robust ties. This was also Prime Minister Modi’s second visit to South Korea in four years. He was on a State Visit to South Korea, earlier in May 2015.

India is strengthening its cooperation with all the East Asian countries. While India and Japan have always shared friendly relations, India-China relations have been significantly improved post-Wuhan summit.

In its attempt to reach out to all major economic and diplomatic powers of the region, India is looking towards countries such as South Korea to build the regional peace and ensure stability. India desires to work towards ensuring an Indo-Pacific which is economically and militarily secure. More participation by countries in the Indo-Pacific will bring peace to the region.

India’s Act East Policy and South Korea’s ‘New Southern Policy’ are complimentary in nature. India’s proactive engagement has been equally reciprocated by the South Korean side. Mr. Modi’s visit adds another milestone to India-South Korea ties.

Script: Dr. Rahul Mishra, Strategic Analyst On East & Southeast Asia