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This article was first published 5 years ago  » News » Why the South Korean president came calling

Why the South Korean president came calling

By Dr Rahul Mishra
July 12, 2018 08:44 IST
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Moon Jae-in's visit will play a crucial role in exploring complementarities between India's Act East policy and South Korea's New Southern policy, says Rahul Mishra.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and South Korean President Moon Jae-in head for a meeting at Hyderabad House, July 10, 2018. Photograph: Kamal Singh/PTI Photo

2018 has been a remarkable success in the context of India's Act East policy.

The year began with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj inaugurating the Regional Pravasi Bhartiya Divas in Singapore on January 9, and in the six months since she has visited Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia and Mongolia.

At the beginning of 2018, the Act East policy received a boost with the commemoration of 25 years of India-Association of Southeast Asian Nations dialogue partnership, with all 10 ASEAN heads of States visiting India to participate in the commemorative summit.

For the first time in the history of India's Republic Day celebrations, the 10 heads of States were invited as chief guests.

This was followed by Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi's informal summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan on April 27-28, and his visits to Indonesia (State visit), Malaysia (stopover to meet the newly-elected prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad) and Singapore (official visit), May 29-June 2, 2018.


Moon Jae-in, president of the Republic of Korea (hereafter South Korea) has been on a State visit to India from July 8. Having come to power in May 2017, his visit to India is taking place at the beginning of the second year of his term.

The last high-level visit between the two countries was by Modi to South Korea in May 2015 when the strategic partnership between the two countries was elevated to the level of a special strategic partnership.

In January 2014, then South Korean president Park Geun-hye had paid a State visit to India.

With cooperation extending to other countries in the East Asian region, Modi has showcased that India is expeditiously Acting East and with vigour while engaging with them. And the cooperation with South Korea is part of this effort.

Modi became the first Indian prime minister to give the keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue where on June 1, 2018 he pronounced India's Indo-Pacific strategy. Modi did not forget to mention South Korea in his speech.

'There is a strong momentum in our cooperation with the Republic of Korea,' the prime minister remarked.

South Korea is one of the important components of the Act East policy.

In fact, India has been engaging with South Korea for a very long time. In 2010, then South Korean president Lee Myung-bak was invited as the chief guest at India's Republic Day.

India has been forging an economic partnership with East Asian countries.

During Modi's recent visit to Singapore, the second review of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement was signed. India, despite its valid differences, is actively participating in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations.

Strengthening economic ties with South Korea has always been on India's agenda.

For one, the joint statement on early harvest package of the upgraded comprehensive economic partnership agreement was one of the 11 agreements signed during Moon's visit.

Two other agreements were signed to foster economic ties: An MoU on trade remedies and an MoU on a future strategy group.

Bilateral trade has also increased from $16.82 billion in 2016-2017 to $20.82 billion in 2017-18, with both sides pledging to increase it to $50 billion by 2030.

The upgraded CEPA will help India in bridging the trade imbalance which is currently in South Korea's favour.

India and Japan have also been working closely to explore opportunities for working together on infrastructure development projects in a third country and other regions as well.

The Asia Africa Growth Corridor, led by India and Japan, is a flagship joint project in that regard. South Korea has also expressed its willingness to work with India in investing in a third country.

While China has introduced One Belt, One Road, other countries of the region are also looking for opportunities to leverage from the connectivity and infrastructure development drive.

The Export-Import Bank of Korea has shown interest in partnering with India in a third country. Afghanistan has been identified as a potential country for such a joint project, which will be a win-win situation for both India and South Korea.

Modi's Make in India campaign has not yielded as much results as his government expected. Therefore, India is keen to have a partnership with South Korea, especially in the field of defence. Though no MoU in the field of defence has been inked during Moon's visit, the objective of the summit-level interaction is to strengthen defence ties too.

On the security side, it may be noted that in addition to China, Japan, Russia, and the United States, India also has a security dialogue mechanism with South Korea, which is seen as a key defence partner with vast untapped potential.

South Korean companies such as Samsung, LG, and Hyundai are big players in the Indian consumer market.

During his visit, Moon inaugurated a Samsung manufacturing unit, the largest in the world, in Noida in which Samsung has invested $760 million. This demonstrates South Korea's willingness to invest in India for mutual benefit and growth. India's improved ranking in the ease of doing business has also been a motivating factor on that count.

Though India was not one of the core countries which played a role in the inter-Korean summit, New Delhi has been concerned about nuclear proliferation in the Korean peninsula due to Pakistani nuclear scientist A Q Khan's role in illegally supplying nuclear technology to North Korea. During their interactions, Modi alluded to those concerns.

Before coming to India, Moon visited Russia from June 21-23, implying that he is keen to engage key regional players who were not part of the inter-Korea dialogue.

Clearly, Moon's visit will play a crucial role in exploring complementarities between India's Act East policy and South Korea's New Southern policy, which was introduced by the South Korean president to strengthen ties with ASEAN economies.

After India, Moon will head to Singapore which hosted the Trump-Kim Jong Un summit.

For long, South Korea was focused on North Korea and on efforts to denuclearise the Korean peninsula. With United States President Donald J Trump's uncertain foreign policy priorities, especially on trade, countries -- including its traditional allies -- are looking for new partners.

The New Southern Policy is part of that strategy, in which India has a key role to play.

Dr Rahul Mishra is a senior lecturer at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

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