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India-Korea Partnership An Enchanting Affair

Updated: December 24, 2011 10:48 am

India-Korea partnership is slowly and steadily maturing beyond the bilateral realm into multilateral frame. Both India and Korea are vibrant democracies. The two countries can today rightly boast of a multifaceted relationship that encompasses a wide range of fields and is characterised by a commitment at the highest political level for a deeper engagement. Kim Joong-Keun, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to India, outlines his views on “Korea-India Relations: Progress and Prospects”.



To begin with, let me give a quick overview of Korea’s past, present and future. Korea is located in northeast Asia and occupies the southern portion of the Korean peninsula. In terms of geographical area, it is almost of the same size as of the United Kingdom. The history of Korea begins with Go-Chosun kingdom which was founded when a tribal chieftain Dangun united warring tribes into a nation-state in 2333 BC. By the first century BC Go-Chosun kingdom declined and from the ashes of three kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje and Shilla arose and ruled the Korean peninsula and a part of Manchuria. Later Shilla defeated the other two and unified the peninsula. The ‘Unified Shilla Period’ (AD 675-935) was the golden age for Korean culture.

In the early 10th century Goryeo dynasty succeeded Shilla. The name ‘Korea’ is actually derived from ‘Goryeo’. In 1392, the Chosun dynasty took over the area and remained in control until 1910. The Chosun dynasty was the peninsula’s last dynasty. During this period, the Korean alphabet ‘Han-guel’ was invented and Hanyang, now known as Seoul, was established as the capital city. In 1910, Chosun dynasty fell under Japanese colonial rule largely due to its ‘closed door policy’ and ignorance about the changes of the world. Japanese colonial rule ended with its defeat in the World War II and surrender to allied powers on August 15, 1945.

However, the end of colonial rule did not lead to the emergence of an independent nation. The country was divided into two halves along the 38th parallel line with the United States occupying the South while erstwhile Soviet Union the North. Three years later in 1948, elections were held in the South under UN supervision and the Government of the Republic of Korea was inaugurated.

On 25th March 1950, North Korea launched an unprovoked full-scale invasion of South Korea leading to a full-scale war that lasted for three years. sixteen nations sent their combat forces and five nations including India sent their medical contingents to help Korea meet this challenge. A ceasefire was signed in July 1953 to end the conflict. But, no peace treaty as yet, so we are still at war technically.

In just six decades, Korea has achieved a remarkable growth that has come to be called ‘Miracle on the Han River’. Today, South Korea is an economic powerhouse and a vibrant democracy. It is the twelfth biggest economy in the world and fourth largest in Asia. It has been an OECD member since 1996 and G-20, a premier forum for global economic decision-making.

Last year Korea successfully hosted the G-20 Summit. It will be hosting ‘Nuclear Security Summit’ in March 2012. The hosting of these important events demonstrates Korea’s status as an important member of international community. Here, I would specially like to mention that Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh will be visiting Seoul to attend the Nuclear Security Summit and also former Indian President Dr Abdul Kalam is a member of Eminent Persons Group which has been formed to give consulting and policy advice for the Seoul Nuclear Summit. By hosting the second Nuclear Security Summit, Korea wants to play an active role in international security discussions and management.

Korea has also hosted major sporting events like the Summer Olympics in 1988, FIFA World Cup in 2002. It hosted successfully the World Athletics Championship from August 27 to September 4 and will be hosting the Winter Olympics in 2018.

Let me now concentrate on what Korea aims to become in days to come or “Korea Tomorrow”. President Lee Myung-bak announced a vision of ‘Global Korea’ in 2008 to upgrade Korea’s branding and standing in the world community. The ‘Global Korea’ vision envisages a fully-advanced Korea which stands tall in the global arena. Korea understands that Global Korea can’t be truly possible without taking global responsibilities. For this Korea has decided to raise its Official Development Assistance (ODA) from current 900 million USD to over USD 3 billion by 2015—a three-fold increase in its foreign assistance. Korea will also expand its peacekeeping forces which are currently operating in 14 countries as a part of UN and multinational peacekeeping forces so that they contribute more to maintaining peace and stability. In order to achieve the goal of Global Korea, It wants to become a hub of international trade and it sees FTAs as powerful means to achieve this goal.

As regards the development of Korea-India bilateral relations over the years, I must say that the present-day Korea-India relationship has blossomed through distinct stages, each stage contributing significantly to shore up the varied facets of our bilateral relations. I would like to identify three distinct stages in the evolution of Korea-India present-day relations.

The first stage, which I prefer to call ‘budding period’, starts with the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1973 and covers the period until early 1990s. In this period of two decades, our two countries started diplomatic and other bilateral interactions and put themselves on course to realise full potentials of their cooperation. But they could not do so because of their inherent ideological incongruity and differences in their policy orientations.

The main reason was that India adopted a socialist, secular, democratic government at home and spearheaded Non-Aligned Movement as the leading nation of third world in international affairs. Korea, on the other hand, maintained the US-Korea alliance to defend its democracy against external security threat. So, our two countries saw each other as a member of the ‘different camps’ and were blinded by the blinkers of the global block politics of the time.

In the economic policy perspective, India adopted inward-looking import substitution model of development, whereas Korea consistently pursued an outward-looking export-oriented development path and opened its market to the world. This prevented the growth of economic ties between the two countries. Therefore, diplomatic ties and other bilateral interactions notwithstanding, relations between the two countries did not make much headway.

The subsequent stage, which I would like to call as phase of ‘economic and commercial cooperation’, covers the period between 1991 and 2009. This was the phase in which our bilateral relations grew steadily and significantly in real sense. In this period, India took two important policy initiatives and two other important developments took place in the international arena. The combination of these changes in India’s policy and in the global scene contributed to the development of our bilateral relations.

First, India adopted the New Economic Policy in 1991 and liberalised its economy. This change of policy from a state-controlled mixed economy to a market economy further bolstered our bilateral relations, especially in the sphere of economic relations. Both Seoul and New Delhi recognised the overwhelming need to deepen the process of economic engagement with each other and expanded the frontiers of business to bring prosperity to both our countries and people. Korean investors were quick to recognise the innate strength of Indian economy, the forward-looking economic policies of the Indian government and the vast genius of the Indian people.

In the early years of India’s economic reforms, while many foreign companies were sceptical about the strength and efficacy of India’s business environment, Korean companies with their unique dynamism and adventurism showed confidence in the fundamentals of Indian economy and filled the vacuum that other foreign companies left. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Korean companies for playing a pivotal role in strengthening our bilateral economic ties.

The second policy change on India’s part was the announcement of its Look East Policy in 1991 with the aim to seek greater engagement with East Asian countries. But, for the entire period of the 1990s, India only looked at east but mostly went towards west. It is only recently, perhaps around 2005 that India actually started not only looking at the east but also moving in the east direction and intensified its diplomatic outreach to its eastern neighbours, including Korea. The initiation of CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement) negotiations with Korea in 2005 and with Japan in 2006 does indicate a change in India’s policy from ‘look east’ to ‘engage east.’

Besides the India’s policy changes, there were two other significant developments at the international level. The first was the end of the Cold War. With the end of the Cold War, India was no longer seen by Koreans as a member of ‘other bloc’ and two countries found some common ground to work on and cooperate with each other in the economic and trade fields for reaping mutual benefit. Another positive change in the international environment which acted as a catalyst to the development of our bilateral relations was the improvement in the relations between India and the US.

The improvement in Indo-US ties did not only change the dynamics of their bilateral relations, but also significantly impacted the contents and contour of our regional security and economic environment. The US, by having a civil nuclear cooperation agreement signed with India, ended the global nuclear apartheid against India, and prepared ground for greater engagement with India. The improvement in Indo-US relations could provide the opportunity for Korea and India to expand their sphere of cooperation, including cooperation in regional security issues and non-traditional security issues.

The Korea-India relationship has now evolved into Strategic Partnership. The establishment of strategic partnership between our two countries could be the result of convergence of India’s Look East Policy and Korea’s New Asia Diplomatic Initiative. I would like to describe it as policy rendezvous. President Lee Myung-bak’s New Asia Diplomatic Initiative announced in 2008 represents a shift in Korea’s foreign policy from focusing on the four major powers to expanding its partnership with other neighbouring countries. It seeks to expand South Korea’s diplomatic horizon in two new directions. First, it expands Seoul’s traditional foreign policy focus from Northeast Asia to the entire Asian region. Second, it is intended to widen the scope of cooperation from economy to security, culture, energy and other sectors.

The vision incorporates Korea’s entering into FTAs (Free Trade Agreements) and strengthening its security ties with more Asian nations. The main aim of the new diplomatic initiative is to diversify Korea’s diplomatic activities with more friends in the region. As a part of his New Asia Initiative, President Lee paid a historic State Visit to India in January 2010 and upgraded our bilateral relations to a ‘Strategic Partnership’. Korea and India also implemented CEPA at the same time to realise the full potential of their economic cooperation. With these two landmark developments, the two nations laid down the ground for future development of our bilateral relations.

Let me now briefly touch upon current state of our bilateral relations. Today, Korea-India relations are in the best shape ever. The exchange of high-level visits has become regular and more frequent. Bilateral trade and investment is surging ahead and people-to-people contacts are expanding. The CEPA has given a much-needed impetus to our bilateral relations.

Over the past one year, a number of ministerial delegations have exchanged visits, including the important visits by Indian Ministers of External Affairs and Defence to Korea. President Patil paid a State Visit to Korea this July which further strengthened our strategic partnership. We are expecting visits by Korean Defence Minister and Foreign Minister to India towards the beginning of next year. We also look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Korea as our official guest in March next year, which would again strengthen our strategic partnership.

The CEPA in its first year of operation has unleashed the economic growth impulses and as a result, the two-way trade surged from 12 billion US dollars in 2009 to 17 billion US dollars in 2010, which is a good 41 per cent increase over the last year. This growth rate in Korea-India trade is significantly higher than that in both Korea’s total trade and its trade with China. During the first eight months of this year, bilateral trade has touched 14 billion US dollars, which is a 30 per cent increase over the same period last year. The trade volume is expected to cross 21 billion US dollars, this year.

It is now quite evident that the CEPA has opened up new pathways of upgrading our bilateral economic engagement to a much higher level. We are committed to sustain this growth momentum over the next eight to ten years as our two countries progressively reduce or eliminate the tariffs on imports from each other. There are now enhanced people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges between the two countries. As you know, our two countries are celebrating the year 2011 as the ‘Year of Korea in India’ and ‘Year of India in Korea’. Both our nations have successfully hosted a number of cultural events in each other’s country so far to mark the special year. These celebrations have presented the sublime facets of each other’s culture to the people of our two countries and elevated mutual understanding and friendship between our two peoples to a higher level.

As regards to future policy orientation for long-term bilateral cooperation, I think the two countries will focus on developing comprehensive, mutually beneficial and enduring bilateral relations beyond trade and investment. The long-term development of our relations critically hinges on introducing and promoting soft power of our respective countries to our two peoples. I sincerely hope that we should push forward closer people-to-people contacts, besides ensuring deeper cultural interactions between our two countries.

Although our relations in the field of culture have been picking up, we still need to develop closer cultural ties in order to build the bridges of mutual understanding and friendship between our two peoples. This calls for intensified people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges. And I do hope that the efforts we are making to enhance our mutual understanding and knowledge will produce desirable results in the near future.

Security is another area in which our two countries should be looking forward for closer cooperation. As you may agree, our region is home to a number of potential causes for conflict. Both our countries live in difficult neighbourhoods and face constant challenge to their security. As two countries heavily dependent upon imported energy, we have common interest in ensuring the security of sea lanes of communications. Thus, we have huge stakes in maintaining stability and security in the region. And this calls for our greater cooperation in security matters. For this, we need to establish a framework for security cooperation. In fact, one of the common goals of ‘India – Korea Special Partnership’ is to secure and promote stability in the East Asia region and to achieve this goal we are determined to work together with other important countries in the region. And, one of the ideas we are working on is the trilateral cooperation between Korea, India and Japan.

Since India maintains a ‘Global and Strategic Partnership’ with Japan, and Korea has a ‘Future Oriented Mature Relationship’ with Japan, the three countries have a common ground to build trilateral cooperation in security matters. More importantly, the three countries share the common values of democracy and market economy as their fundamental ideology. Therefore, the building blocks for trilateral cooperation involving Korea, India and Japan in security matters are already in place. And the three nations can complement the existing bilateral cooperation by formalising the trilateral cooperation. Trilateral cooperation will surely contribute to maintaining stability and security in the region. Furthermore, the trilateral security cooperation will also give us leverage which we don’t have now in dealing with other major powers in the region.

As a first step in this direction, diplomats from three countries in New Delhi have discussed for the last six months the framework of trilateral security cooperation and have agreed to launch a trilateral dialogue between Korea, India and Japan at Track II level. The Institute of Foreign Affairs and International Security (IFANS) has been designated as Korea’s focal point, while the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) will serve as India’s focal point for the Track II dialogue. The first meeting of this dialogue is likely to be held in the first half of 2012 in New Delhi.

The agenda of the dialogue may include regional security issues and non-conventional security concerns like maritime security, energy security, piracy, etc. We do expect that this dialogue at non-governmental level will gradually evolve into a dialogue at the governmental level.

I am confident that the prospects of our medium and long-term bilateral relations are bright. The strategic partnership between India and Korea offers vast scope for strengthening our cooperation in regional affairs. Though Korea is not a major regional power, it, through cooperation with India, can serve its strategic interests in the Indian Ocean areas. Similarly, it can help India secure a foothold in the Northeast Asia region.

In the field of economic relations, the sectors that have potentials to enhance the already existing bilateral trade and investment relations are automobile, construction and infrastructure, nuclear and renewable energy, ICT industry, shipbuilding, defence, chemical and petrochemicals, etc.

I would also like to mention here our cooperation in the field of education. Indian studies in Korea started in ancient period. Then Indian studies in Korea were confined to the study of ancient Indian philosophies and religion, especially Buddhism. At present there are two universities in Korea—Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and Busan University of Foreign Studies—which not only provide Hindi language courses but also provide specialised courses in modern Indian society, culture, religion, politics and history. In India, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Delhi University have Korean language and Korean studies programmes. Besides, Hyderabad University, Magadha University and Manipur University are also maintaining Korean Language programme in India. National Institute of International Education and Development (NIIED), Academy of Korean Studies and Korea Foundation offer Research Fellowship and Language Training Scholarship to Indian students.

Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) offers two scholarships to South Korean students every year to study in Indian universities. The Kendriya Hindi Sansthan (Central Institute of Hindi), Agra, regularly provides scholarships to Korean students for studying Hindi at the Sansthan (Centre).

The number of Indian students studying in Korean universities is steadily increasing. There are about six hundred scientists/post-doctoral research scholars in ROK working in prestigious institutions. Similarly, there is also a growing interest for education in India amongst the ROK students, in English/Hindi language education, school and higher education and technical institutions like IITs (Indian Institute of Technology). However, keeping in view the vast expansion in bilateral relations, it can be said that Korean studies in India and Indian studies in Korea are still in their early stage of development.

I am sure that with further enhancement in our bilateral relations, the general interests in each other’s society, culture and education will grow among ordinary Indians and Koreans which will give further boost to bilateral exchanges and cooperation in the field of education in days to come.

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