Scale up the India-South Korea bilateral partnership

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    In Context

    There is much potential for South Korea to become the fourth pillar in New Delhi’s Indo-Pacific strategy

    India – South Korea Relations

    • 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:
      • Bilateral trade in the first half (January-June) of 2021 was recorded at $10.97 billion, an increase of 38 per cent compared to the same period of the previous year. 
      • South Korea’s exports to India increased 38.5 per cent ($7.4 billion), imports increased 37.4 per cent ($3.6 billion), and the trade balance recorded a surplus of $3.8 billion.
        • 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.

    Shift in South Korean foreign and security policies. 

    • The newly elected Korean President, Yoon Suk Yeol, has brought about a paradigm shift in South Korean foreign and security policies. 
      • South Korea’s new willingness to become a global pivotal state and play an active role in regional affairs is bound to create multiple opportunities for a multi-dimensional India- Korea partnership.
      • Both nations will now be in a better position to understand and accommodate the other’s trade investments and supply chain needs. 
      • The emerging strategic alignment is creating a new convergence of capabilities and closer synergy in new areas of economic cooperation such as public health, green growth, digital connectivity, and trade, among others.
    • With the strategic shift in South Korea’s defence orientation, new doors of cooperation for defence and security have emerged
      • Advanced defence technologies and modern combat systems are the new domains for the next level of defence cooperation between the two countries.

    Significance for India 

    • South Korea’s participation in additional maritime security activities in the Indian Ocean, such as the annual Malabar and other exercises with Quad countries, will further strengthen India’s naval footprint in the Indo-Pacific region. 
    • The shift in South Korean policies will enable a strong India, South Korea and Japan defence policy coordination that could effectively forge new joint regional security policies.

    Challenges /Issues 

    • During the past five years, India and South Korea have experienced considerable divergence in their respective national objectives
    • There was a clear drift by South Korea away from multilateral security initiatives led by the United States, such as the Quad (the U.S., Australia, India and Japan); meanwhile, India has been actively participating in them.
    • 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
    • India and South Korea were also trying to upgrade their Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) agreement, but to no avail.
    • South Korea’s peace process with North Korea has completely collapsed
      • In the coming days, as North Korea conducts more missile and nuclear tests, it may lead to regional tension
        • Any breakout of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula can derail South Korea’s Indo-Pacific project.
    • Agreements with china 
      • During the Moon presidency, South Korea was forced to sign the “three no’s” agreement with China
        • Under this agreement, Korea agreed to:
          •  no additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) deployment; 
          • no participation in the U.S. ‘s missile defence network, and
          • no establishment of a trilateral military alliance with the U.S. and Japan.
        • Real challenge for South Korea is to withstand the inevitable Chinese pressure and stick to its new alignment.
    • In 2020, India and South Korea signed a Roadmap for Defence Industries Cooperation between the Republic of India and the Republic of Korea (ROK) deal. 
      • However, due to the lack of political and strategic alignment, nothing came of it. 
    • 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 Forward 

    • South Korea could be the fourth pillar in India’s Indo-Pacific strategy along with Japan, Australia, and Vietnam. 
      • This can bring about a paradigm shift in India’s position and influence in the region.
    • The time has come for the Indian and South Korean bilateral partnership to be strategically scaled up at the political, diplomatic and security domain levels.
    • 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.
    • India can help South Korea withstand Chinese pressure and North Korean threats. 
    • An independent, strong, and democratic South Korea can be a long-term partner with India, that will add significant value to India’s Indo-Pacific strategy. 
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    [Q] South Korea can contribute immensely to enhance India’s foundational strengths in the Indo-Pacific,Comment