India-South Korea Relations


    In Context

    • India and South Korea recently acknowledged the 50th anniversary of India-South Korea diplomatic ties.

    A walking pilgrimage through the Buddhist circuit

    • About:
      • A group of 108 Buddhist monks from South Korea will walk over 1,100 kilometres in the next 43 days, from February 9 to March 23.
    • Marking 50 years of diplomatic relations: 
      • Organised by the Sangwol Society of South Korea, the pilgrimage marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
    • Aim:
      • The pilgrimage aims to increase friendship and collaboration between the two countries.
    • Path for the walk:
      • The monks will trace the Buddha’s footsteps and life journey in India. 
      • The walking pilgrimage will begin from Sarnath in Varanasi and culminate at Shravasti after traversing through Nepal.
        • The tourists will visit Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in India and subsequently move to Nepal to see Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini.

    India – South Korea bilateral relations

    • India-Republic of Korea relations have made great strides in recent years and have become truly multidimensional, spurred by a significant convergence of interests, mutual goodwill and high-level exchanges. 
    • Political:
      • In May 2015, the bilateral relationship was upgraded to ‘special strategic partnership’.
      • India has a major role to play in South Korea’s Southern Policy under which Korea is looking at expanding relations beyond its immediate region.
      • Similarly, South Korea is a major player in India’s Act East Policy under which India aims to promote economic cooperation, cultural ties and develop strategic relationships with countries in the Asia-Pacific.
    • Economic:
      • India and South Korea set a bilateral trade target of $50 billion before 2030,
      • India and South Korea have signed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), 2010 which has facilitated the growth of trade relations.
      • To facilitate investment from Korea, India has launched a “Korea Plus” facilitation cell under ‘Invest India’ to guide, assist and handhold investors.
    • Cultural:
      • Korean Buddhist Monk Hyecho or Hong Jiao visited India from 723 to 729 AD and wrote the travelogue “Pilgrimage to the five kingdoms of India” which gives a vivid account of Indian culture, politics & society.
      • Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore had composed a short but evocative poem – ‘Lamp of the East’ – in 1929 about Korea’s glorious past and its promising bright future.


    • South Korea’s New Indo-Pacific Strategy:
      • South Korea launched its first Indo-Pacific vision document, namely the “Strategy for a Free, Peaceful and Prosperous Indo-Pacific”.
      • The latest strategic document, lists India as the main actor in Seoul’s South Asian outreach, foreshadows an enhanced strategic partnership based on better communication and upgrading defence, diplomatic, and economic security ties.
        • With South Korea’s emergence as a leader in critical technologies, cybersecurity and cyber-capacity building, outer space and space situational awareness capabilities, South Korea can contribute immensely to enhance India’s foundational strengths in the Indo-Pacific.
      • There is also synergy between South Korea’s New Indo-Pacific Strategy and India’s Act East Policy (AEP).
    • Regional Stability:
      • The regional tensions in South Asia especially between India and China create a common interest for India and South Korea.
      • This could be a collaborative approach for regional stability.
    • Engagements in global issues:
      • The new, emerging threats posed by an increasingly militant China, with its growing divergence with the United States, and convergence with Russia; the Ukraine war and its numerous political and social ramifications; are some of the ongoing challenges that have compelled middle powers like India, Japan, and South Korea to step up their engagement, with one another most of all.
    • Global supply chains:
      • In view of difficulties faced due to the supply chain overdependence on China during the COVID-19 pandemic, India and South Korea have also agreed to work together on creating resilient and robust global supply chains.


    • Inadequate Trade:
      • In the last few years, India and South Korea have faced serious blockades to their economic ties. 
      • Trade between the two countries was sluggish and there was no major inflow of South Korean investment into India. 
    • Indian Diaspora: 
      • Within South Korea, the integration of Indians in the local population is far from complete, with some instances of racial prejudice or discrimination toward Indians 
    • Inadequate acknowledgment of Korean Culture: 
      • To a certain extent Indians are unable to distinguish between the cultural and social characteristics of South Koreans from that of Japanese/Chinese. 
    • Unfulfilled potential of Cultural Centres:
      • Indian Culture Centre (ICC) was established in Seoul to promote people-to-people contacts. 
      • However, ICC has to reach an exponentially wider audience and its focus has to expand beyond the urban, English-speaking elite of Seoul.  
      • The same may be applicable to South Korean culture centres in India. 
    • Multi-dimensional challenges:
      • The current emerging alignment between India and South Korea, which has the potential to bring the two countries closer together, may prove short-lived if proper attention is not paid to the multi-dimensional challenges it faces. 

    Way ahead

    • India’s presidency of the G-20 will also facilitate greater coordination between the two sides, particularly to propel the Global South’s concerns.
    • On maritime issues, South Korea’s position as dialogue partner in the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) will bolster “future-oriented” cooperation within the wider region.
    • Both countries should simultaneously look to cultivate a trilateral relationship with ASEAN.
    • Thus, together as strong middle powers India and South Korea can use their weight to maintain a stable, rules-based regional order.


    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] How India and South Korea together can maintain a stable, rules-based regional order in the Indo-Pacific region? What is the significance of their bilateral relations for the Indo-Pacific region?