Why India-Korea Strategic Cooperation is Critical to the Region
Anurag Shukla       12-10-05

In recent years India and South Korea have forged a greater bilateral relationship. In the last few months, on the heels of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh¡¯s historic visit to Seoul as a participant for the Nuclear Security Summit this relationship was taken to new heights.

Following the conclusion of the summit which was hosted in Seoul, India and South Korea continued a one-to-one dialogue to further strengthen their bilateral relations and strategic alliances. The Prime Minister¡¯s visit proved crucial, not only during summit proceedings, but also to lay the roadmap for India and South Korea¡¯s cooperation and strengthening of bilateral ties.

The Prime Minister emphasized that the two nations¡¯ centuries old ties are today the foundation of future cooperation between the two nations. ¡°Links between India and Korea go back thousands of years. Lord Buddha¡¯s abiding message of peace resonates among both our peoples. We know of the legend that a Princess from Ayodhya traveled here to marry King Kim Suro,¡± he said. He also appreciated South Korea¡¯s attempts to nurture these ties with gestures such as the recent public installation of a bust of Rabindranath Tagore. ¡°I thank you for installing a bust of India¡¯s great poet, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, who called your nation the ¡®Lamp of the East¡¯, in Seoul,¡± he added.

He also commented to Mr. Lee, the president of South Korea, that, ¡°India regards you as a great supporter of a strong IndiaKorea partnership. It was during your historic visit to India in 2010 that we upgraded our relations to the level of a Strategic Partnership. We admire the way you have steered the Korean economy through the global economic downturn¡±.

Cooperation is vital to both nations. South Korea¡¯s small geographic footprint and demographic limitations contrast with India¡¯s strengths of a larger land mass as well as the world¡¯s second-largest growing economy, which allows for symbiotic relationship.

Officially, bilateral ties between the two countries can be traced back to 40 years ago, when India¡¯s foreign policy underwent a sea-change. The nation¡¯s over-dependence on the United States for strategic and economic support had come under great pressure, following India¡¯s testing of its nuclear capabilities in May of 1973. Along with several other strategic reasons, this resulted in India¡¯s ¡®Look East¡¯ foreign policy. Indian strategist analysts¡¯ emphasis on building strong economic as well as strategic relationships with its Asian sisters soon blossomed into a strong bilateral relationship with South Korea.

Today, South Korea has the most vibrant economy in the ASEAN region. It is home to some of the world¡¯s best electronic, automotive and mobile manufacturing companies, which are growing exponentially in consumer as well as heavy engineering fields, and which have a considerable stake in Indian consumer markets as well. South Korea looks towards India¡¯s greater capabilities such as satellite technologies, and it is this mutual regard which has continuously cemented the two countries¡¯ economic bond.

Compulsions of Asian Century and Why India Needs a Strategic Ally in South Korea
In the first decade of the new century, political and economic experts have applied various labels to it, such as the ¡®Asian Century¡¯ or the ¡®Pacific Century¡¯. The unrealized potential of the region, believe analysts, is now beginning to be realized, given the maturing of the region and the ¡®pressures¡¯ other regions of the world are being limited by. Asia¡¯s growing economic clout far outweighs other international countries and there is a clamor amongst the regional states to find international political roles. In that context, both India and South Korea are located amongst neighbors in whom the US and China show considerable interest. North Korean and Pakistani military activeness affects India¡¯s and South Korea¡¯s strategic depth, internally.

In a post cold-war era, neither country can rely on external resources to meet internal energy or market demands as they have traditionally done. One major change which is needed is a ¡®strategic DNA¡¯ overhaul within both nations, along with a re-look at developing economic collateral while actively encouraging the pursuit of greater geopolitical pragmatism.

Bilateral Relations Now Become Strategic Ties
With the Indian Prime Minister¡¯s visit last month, economic ties have transformed into strategic ties. Discussions between Prime Minister Singh and President Lee Myung-Bak of South Korea made significant progress as talks involved the manufacture and development of military equipment, nuclear engineering and the arms trade. India is keen to develop on its strengths within the framework of the bilateral agenda possible between the two countries.

Until recently, most of India¡¯s strategic procurement came from Western powers – the United States, France and within Asia from Russia. That India and South Korea are keen on building their ¡®strategic relations¡¯ was amply substantiated in the joint statement at the Nuclear Security Summit, where a statement was made to the effect that, ¡°President Lee underscored that the ROK side wanted to increase cooperation with India in military and defense industry including... naval ships, aircraft and shipbuilding.¡±

On nuclear technology cooperation, considering India has already allocated sites for other countries such as France, America and also Russia to develop nuclear reactors, President Lee made a special request to ¡°the Indian government to allocate a site for Korean nuclear reactors.¡±

In its modern history, South Korea has always been quick to adopt to changes. The need to develop leadership in the new changing world order has been compelling, and under President Lee, South Korea has been highly adaptive, in part by drastically improving its strategic and economic alliance with India.

Nuclear Co-operation Agreement
A nuclear cooperation agreement was drawn up between India and the Republic of Korea last year, which gives South Korea a head-start on developing reactor vessels over Japan. India will soon sign a similar contract with Japan, and hence South Korea is keen on developing its reactor vessels for multiple projects as it wants to tap into potential third-party scenarios such as Areva, who traditionally sources their components from Japanese companies. Indian officials opine that, ¡°Having the Koreans in the fray also means India¡¯s other nuclear partners have to keep the price of their reactors competitive.¡±

Analysts also perceive that the strategic alliance with South Korea will give India greater bargaining power with other nuclear participants in terms of costs as well as technologies, given the wide scope of India¡¯s nuclear energy program. India is also hoping for greater goodwill with South Korea, and diplomats from both the countries are confident of South Korea¡¯s support on India¡¯s inclusion in the Nuclear Suppliers Group as well as the Missile Technology Control Regime.

Additionally, both the countries have jointly endorsed the entry of the US as well as Russia in the East Asia Summit (EAS), which is backed by ASEAN. They are also looking forward to trilateral discussions at the Track-II level where Japan would be the third participant.

The two countries also agreed to cooperate on political and economic security in the region as well as work towards maintaining regional stability.

Growing Concerns on North Korea¡¯s Nuclear Capabilities
As North Korea¡¯s nuclear capabilities grow, it is being regarded by both countries with great caution. The rogue nation¡¯s long-range rocket launcher is continuing to raise security as well as safety concerns with both nations, and the respective leaders chose to address this situation with categorical statements of maintaining regional balance.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that, ¡°Nothing should be done which increases tensions in the region and violates the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.¡± The South Korean premier seconded the notion and highlighted the two countries joint-stand against such disruptive forces in the region.

Bilateral Trade Boosted
Bilateral trade between the two countries too has received a boost following the premier¡¯s visit along with effective deployment of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. Over a two-year journey, the trade volumes have grown significantly, by nearly 70-percent, today reaching over US$20 billion. The Indian Prime Minister said that, ¡°President Lee and I agreed that our strong economic ties are fundamental to our growing interaction. We have therefore set a new target of US$40 billion by 2015. We also agreed to accelerate work in progress to upgrade the partnership agreement and make it more ambitious.¡±

To ease the movement of people between the two countries, an agreement was also drawn to simplify visa procedures. It may now be said that strategic ties hold the key. As India and South Korea renew their economic and bilateral trade opportunities, both are committed to optimizing strategic alliances so as to redefine their roles in the Asian Century