Building on flourishing business ties, India and South Korea have been ramping up relations in the last decade and more.
South Korean companies like Samsung, Hyundai and LG, are now household names in India. The thriving business has led to closer political, cultural and defence ties.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s maiden visit to India has to be seen in the context of swirling changes in both the Korean Peninsular and the larger Asian region where China’s shadow looms large. And an unpredictable US president is at the helm in Washington.
Today, when the world is in flux, both India and South Korea, are looking for options to hedge their bets.
Cementing ties with the world’s most populous democracy works well for South Korea. India see’s enormous benefit in Korean FDI and its companies are playing
a pivotal role in Modi’s Make-in-India initiative.
Moon arrived in Delhi late Sunday. Monday’s engagements included a visit to the Samsung facility in Noida, accompanied by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Samsung plans to make India an export hub. This flows into Modi’s promise to create jobs for the young. Any company expanding its capacity is a must for the PM, who faces national elections next year.
Read | India is now world's 2nd largest phone maker due to Make-in-India initiative, says PM Modi
On Tuesday, Modi and Moon held talks in Hyderabad House and vowed to strengthen the `Special Strategic Partnership’ between the countries. More defence exercises, joint defence production, and greater coordination between the defence forces of the two countries.
The two countries are also hoping to work together in Afghanistan on capacity building.
During the talks, Moon also briefed Modi on the situation in the Korean Peninsular, the peace moves and the denuclearisation of the region. He gave an optimistic picture but cautioned about bumps on the way.
Modi praised Moon for his efforts at getting Kim Jong-un to the negotiating table. Moon, unlike his predecessor, had been promising better relations with North Korea in his election manifesto.
Moon worked tirelessly for this and despite major provocations, the nuclear and missile tests by Kim Jong-un, he persisted and made a breakthrough. What finally happens is not known, but Moon will have the satisfaction of knowing that he gave it his best shot and convinced the president to come on board.
Read | India will make efforts to ensure peace in Korean peninsula: PM Modi after bilateral talks with Moon Jae-in
At the end of the talks, the two sides released a joint statement on `A Vision for People, Prosperity, Peace and our Future.’ “Recognising the link between prosperity and security, we reaffirmed the importance of freedom of navigation, overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce. We supported initiatives for peaceful resolution of conflict through dialogue, underlying the centrality of sovereignty and territorial integrity, in accordance with the universally-recognised principles of international law”. This is a clear call for freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific, something that all countries of the region, as well as India and the US now stress. Although China is nowhere mentioned, it is obviously directed at Beijing.
Moon, who was elected in 2017, is keen to elevate ties with India to the level of Seoul’s relations with major powers like Japan, China, Russia and the US. South Korea is keen to diversify and extend its diplomatic reach.
India’s ‘Act East policy’ ties are in tune with Moon’s `New Southern policy’ aimed at expanding ties with countries which Seoul paid not much attention to earlier. India is at the heart of Moon’s new diplomatic initiatives. The President had spelt his vision as people-centred, peace-loving and promoting mutual prosperity with India and smaller ASEAN member states, that earlier did not get as much attention.
In India, it is not just Modi, but successive governments have been working at improving ties with South Korea. Talks on a Free Trade Agreement between the countries began in 2004. Today, both sides have agreed to upgrade the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. In all, 11 agreements, including MOUs were signed at Hyderabad House. These include cooperation in high-tech, like Artificial Intelligence, 3D technology, railways, especially high-speed rail, biotechnology, as well as cultural exchanges.
Read | South Korean Prez Moon Jae-in visits Akshardham temple in Delhi
Modi and Moon also addressed a CEOs Roundtable. Korea had earlier put up USD10 billion to finance infrastructure projects in India. Delhi is also making sure that Korean projects are fast-tracked, as many Korean companies are partnering PM’s flagship projects like Digital India, Skill India, Make in India and Smart Cities. Bilateral trade last year was over $20 billion.
India and South Korea also have ancient cultural links. In 48AD, a legendary princess of Ayodhya, Suriratna had travelled to Korea and married King Kim-Suro. Many Koreans trace their ancestry to this princess, known there as Queen Hur Hwang-ok. There is already a monument in her honour in Ayodhya. This will now be upgraded as a showcase of the historical links between the countries.