New Delhi’s s(e)oul-mate!

Republic of Korea
By Dr. D.K. Giri
Prof. International Politics, JMI

The IXth India-Korea Joint Commission meeting (JCM) last week in New Delhi attended by the Foreign Ministers and their respective teams occasions a reflection on the deepening of relations between Republic of India and Republic of Korea, potentially becoming soul-mates. The JCM in Delhi like its predecessors was to review the multi-dimensional relations between the two countries. The zenith of India-Korea relations dating back to 2000 years was marked by the visit of Korean President Moon Jae-in in July this year to inaugurate jointly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the world’s biggest Samsung smart phone factory in the outskirt of New Delhi. Moon’s visit broke many records; it was the longest ever visit by any leader of both countries, as many as 11 agreements were signed on various areas for cooperation, he made 18 visits to different places out of which 11 were in the company of NaMo, who, breaking the convention, accompanied him to Rajghat, the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi.
Apparently, Moon-Modi rendezvous and efforts are taking India-Korea relations to a unprecedentedly new level. Moon assumed the Presidency in May 2017. Right from his presidential election campaign, he had promised to elevate India-Korea ties to the level of Korea’s relations with China, USA, Japan and Russia. Having got elected, he sent a special envoy to India to communicate his intent on increasing the intensity of relations with India. By breaking the protocol of appointing career diplomats, he sent his political advisor as the ambassador to India. Of course, the thickening of the ties with India precedes president Moon. When Modi visited Korea in 2015, the bilateral ties were transformed into a special strategic partnership with 10 billion USD Korean support to India’s infrastructure projects.
Therefore, in addition to the individual initiative of the leaders, a strong variable in international diplomacy, the geo-political situation shaping up in Korean-peninsula, mainly, at the behest of China, is bringing Korea closer to India. Korea’s India policy also emanates from its New Southern Policy (NSP) which was formulated to counter China’s belligerent political ambitions. The immediate impetus for the policy came from China’s economic retaliation to Korea allowing the US deployment of THAAD – Terminal High Altitude Area Defence – anti-missiles. Second, Korea is peeved by China’s claim to territory held by ancient Korea, relating to the controversy over the origins and legacy of Koguryo dynasty.
Third, China was allegedly complicit in the killing of many South Koreans in 2010 in the incidents of Cheonan and Yeonpyeong. In Cheonan, South Korean ship was sunk by North Korea which also bombarded Yeonpyeong later in the same year. Fourth, China declared a New Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in 2013, which overlaps South Korea and Japan. Fifth, in a survey conducted, 71 per cent South Korean believe that China is a threat. In addition to China’s growing militarism and expansionism in the region, Korea is concerned by the tug-of-trade war between US & China, the protectionism of US, militarism of China, and stagnation of economy in Japan; at the same time, Korea is attracted by economic growth in India and its potential as a new destination for trade and investment. South Koreans are promising and planning to develop India into “China” as a manufacturing ‘hub’ of the world.
From India’s point of view, its ‘Act East Policy’ complements Korea’s New Southern Policy as Korea’s technological advancement, and manufacturing capacity matches with India’s economic growth and human resource reserve. Strategically, India, through its Act East Policy, seeks to deepen economic engagement, reinvigorate cultural and civilisational relations, to develop new strategic partnerships with countries in the Indo-pacific region. Likewise, Korea seeks, through its New Southern Policy, to strengthen economic cooperation by building prosperous, people-centric community of peace. Therefore, both India-Korea should build a new axis in India-Pacific region.
Let us take a closer look at cooperation in various sectors. On the economic front, the current bilateral trade of $20 billion is to be raised to $50 billion by 2030. If Korea wants to substitute China with India as its major trade partner, it has to do a lot more and fast. In comparison, Korea’s trade with China currently is $281 billion. Korea is an export-led economy, bulk of its exports going to China, followed by US, Japan and Russia. At present, India’s total exports to Korea is $4.95 which is 1.3 per cent of Korea’s total imports, and India’s imports from Korea is $15.1 billion, 3.3 per cent of India’s total imports.
Around 500 Korean companies are working in India. Samsung has built its biggest smart phone factory near Delhi with an investment of $720 million, or 49.15 billion INR, it will produce 120 million smart phones every year and create thousands of jobs in India. Kia Motors is setting up its plant in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh with $ 2 billion. From March 2019, it will manufacture 300,000 vehicles annually. Korea is involved in NaMo’s flagship projects like Make in India, Skill India, Digital India, Start-up India, Smart-cities, and building industrial corridors. Korea also participates in shipbuilding, aerospace industry, manufacturing of medical device and food processing.
South Korea is supporting the Nagpur-Mumbai Expressway with 460 million INR, and building Bandra, Dombivli and Kalyan as smart cities. Both, New Delhi and Seoul are encouraging government and private sectors to work in artificial intelligence, electric vehicles, energy and healthcare. It has, since 2015, committed a financial package of $10 billion to the infrastructure projects. Hyundai Motors which experienced 60 per cent drop in China in 2017, has planned to raise its manufacturing capacity to 50,000 units per year. Lotte Group, which bore the brunt of Chinese retaliation, proposes to invest $3.5 billion in next five years.
On Defence, there is periodic joint-military training and exercise, joint exercise between India Coast Guard (ICS) and Korean Coast Guard (KCG) to improve and maintain security and inter-operability in Indian Ocean. Korea has declared to support the US-led security strategy in Asia and India -led security in Indo-pacific region. Korea as a member of NSG, will support India’s membership, as China persistently opposes it. Korea promises to co-operate with India in building its defence and civil nuclear industries. Following the India-Korea nuclear deal signed by former PM Manmohan Singh, talks have been held in Mumbai in November 2014, and in Daejeon in January 2016.
Institutionally, both countries are expanding internally, to reach out to each other. Since Moon’s presidentship, South Korea’s National Diplomatic Academy opened the ASEAN – India Research Centre within the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in 2018. There is a new Trade Order strategy office in the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, that will pay extra attention to India. Korea has set up a special India Team in its Ministry of Foreign Affair. The Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) has been set up in 2014 in Mumbai to promote and facilitate Korean companies in India. Both countries have set up India-Korea Centre for Research, and Innovation Cooperation to back the relations based on research, innovation and entrepreneurship.
On India’s part, India has instituted the Korea plus mechanism in the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion in order to boost the presence of South-Korean Companies in India. It is to be upgraded to ‘Korea square’ from Korea plus. New Delhi is contemplating the 2+2 format, it follows with the United States and Japan in dealing with bilateralism.
To be sure, India and Korea relations have rich potential to grow into a durable geo-political partnership. Korea needs India as a new economic partner, in order to reduce its dependence on China, and be a part of new Indo-pacific policy to mitigate China-centric risks. India needs Korea as a source of trade and investment. Both share a common vision and concerns in the emerging economic and security architecture in Indo-Pacific region. Unlike, China, India will pose no threat to Korea, as articulated by Korea’s Trade Minister Kim hyun-chong, “with India we have no sensitive geo-political issues, so economic relations will not waver due to external factors.” Korean experts on India are also optimistic that as India’s global foot print increases, Moon’s people-peace-prosperity slogan will echo in the hearts of 1.3 billion Indians.—INFA