India and South Korea relations date back to 48 AD. Korean Buddhist Monk Hyecho or Hong Jiao visited India from 723 to 729 AD and wrote travelogue “Pilgrimage to the five kingdoms of India” which gives a vivid account of Indian culture, politics & society. Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore also composed a short poem – ‘Lamp of the East’ – in 1929 about Korea’s glorious past and its promising bright future.
India played an important and positive role in Korean affairs after Korea’s independence in 1945. During the Korean War (1950-53), both the warring sides accepted a resolution sponsored by India, and the ceasefire was declared on 27 July 1953. Indian officials actively contributed to resolving the humanitarian issues arising out of the War, whose efforts won appreciation from all quarters. Consistent Indian support for peaceful reunification of the two Koreas is appreciated by Republic of Korea (RoK).
India-Republic of Korea (RoK) relations has made great strides in recent years, and has become truly multidimensional, spurred by a significant convergence of interests, mutual goodwill and high level exchanges.
Bilateral consular relations were established in 1962. In course of time, RoK ‘s open market policies found resonance with India’s economic liberalization and ‘Look East Policy ‘.
India-South Korea relations have made rapid strides in recent years. With the convergence of India’s Act East Policy (AEP) and South Korea’s New Southern Policy (NSP), there has been an acceleration of economic and strategic relations between the two countries.
The Vision of the New Southern Policy
The Korean government’s New Southern Policy aims to cultivate its relations with ASEAN and India as key partners in the southern region, raise this partnership to the level of Korea’s traditional four major diplomatic partners (the U.S., China, Japan, Russia), develop values that can be empathized with others, and build a mutually prosperous “peoplecentered” community.
The New Southern Policy aims to form a multilateral economic and diplomatic framework to adjust to the U.S.’s priority on domestic concerns, which has been in full swing since the inauguration of the Trump administration, and to the expansion of China’s influence across East Asia.
The New Southern Policy emphasizes the so-called “3P community,” which stands for a community of People, Prosperity and Peace.
Areas of Cooperation
Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) was operationalized from 1st January 2010.
In 2010, the bilateral ties were raised to the level of “Strategic Partnership”. In 2015, the bilateral relationship was upgraded to ‘special strategic partnership’.
India has also invited South Korean government and business houses to become an important partner in the ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a state visit to Korea in May 2015, within the first year of his government. South Korean President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in visited India in July 2018. Along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he inaugurated a Samsung’s mobile manufacturing plant, touted as the biggest in the world, in Noida.
India is 15th largest trade partner of Korea. An Indian Chamber of Commerce in Korea was established in January 2010 to help Korean companies interested in doing business with India. Trade and economic relations have started to gather momentum following the implementation of CEPA in 2010 and the annual bilateral trade reaching USD 21.5 billion in 2018, crossing the USD20 billion mark for the first time.
Korean investments in India have amounted to $ 7 billion since 2000, while major Korean conglomerates such as Samsung, Hyundai Motors and LG have significant investments in India, estimated at over $3 billion. Indian investments in ROK have already exceeded $2 billion.
There are officially 603 large and small Korean firms, which have offices in India. ‘Korea plus’, a special initiative to promote and facilitate Korean Investments in India was launched in 2016.
Early conclusion of ongoingnegotiations to upgrade the ROK-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement can play a key step towards realizing the goal of raising the bilateral trade to US$ 50 billion by 2030.
South Korea’s total foreign direct investment to India up to September 2020 was about USD 6.94 billion and is one of the key investors in India.
Science & Technology
During South Korean President’s visit to India in July 2018, both countries signed five MoUs in the field of Science & Technology, including one on establishment of Future Strategy Group, a collaborative platform in which both sides will be co-funding collaborative enterprise-led joint R&D projects covering
(i) Digital Transformation
(ii) Future Manufacturing
(iii) Future Utilities and
(iv) Health Care.
Both countries also agreed to establish Indo-Korean Center for Research and Innovation (IKCRI) in India, which will act as the hub for systematic operation and management of all cooperative programs in research and innovation between the two countries including innovation & entrepreneurship and technology transfer.
Also, amidst the unfolding technological disruption of the global economy, South Korea and India have a stake in binding the innovation ecosystems of the two countries.
Nuclear & Defence
The Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation Agreement was signed in July 2011.
It was a historic achievement and demonstrated the strategic partnership between India and South Korea.
It provides a legal framework for South Korean participation in India’s civil nuclear power production industry.
In 2005, the two sides signed an agreement to cooperate in defence and logistics and another Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cooperation between the two Coast Guards in 2006 .
So far, the Indian and South Korean Coast Guards have conducted five exercises with an aim to enhance interoperability.
The most recent of these exercises was held off the coast of Chennai, named Sahyog-Hyeoblyeog 2018 .
Sahyog – Hyeoblyeog is part of a proposed establishment of a MoU between the two Coast Guards to improve maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region.
In May 2021, the Indian Defence Minister and his South Korean counterpart inaugurated the India-Korea Friendship Park in a ceremony at the Delhi Cantonment.
The park was built to commemorate the contribution of the Indian peacekeeping force during the Korean war of 1950-53.
To enhance cultural exchanges between Indian and Korea, an Indian Cultural Centre (ICC) was established in Seoul in April 2011.
An inaugural Festival of India in Korea was held in June 2011.
Indian Council for Cultural Relations conducts Indian Yoga and Kathak-cum-Contemporary dance classes regularly at ICC. Lectures, exhibitions and performances are arranged periodically by ICC.
Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Delhi University (DU) offer programmes in Korea Studies and Korean Language Courses respectively.
Madras University opened a Department of Korean Studies encouraged by the sizeable presence of Koreans in Tamil Nadu.
Two Korean Universities viz. Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) in Seoul, and Busan University of Foreign Studies have Indian Studies Departments.
There is annual exchange of youth delegations between India and RoK for several years now.
Government of India offers scholarships and fellowships to Korean nationals every year to study in India.
RoK Government also offers scholarships to Indian nationals each year to study Korean Language and Literature.
Both the countries agreed to expedite work to upgrade the monument of Queen Suriratna (Hur Hwang-ok) in Ayodhya as a joint project.
In 2012, visa simplification agreement was signed. Nearly 11,000 Indians live in the country.
Many Indian scholars are pursuing post-graduate and Ph. D programmes, mostly in pure sciences.
During the past few years, many professionals, mainly in the areas of IT, shipping and automobile have immigrated to ROK.
Coordination Committee by the Indian high commission works to bring all the Indian Associations in ROK onto a common platform
The Committee is an effective platform for dissemination of information and coordinating cultural events/activities.
Multilateral Platforms Shared by Both the Countries
World Trade Organisation
East Asia Summit (EAS)
Significance of South Korea to India
For India, ROK is an indispensable partner in its “Act East” policy.
India recognizes the value of the bilateral partnership and its potential contribution to bringing peace, stability and security in the Asia Pacific Region.
ROK expressed its support for India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group .
Republic of Korea being a member of APEC, its support to India’s membership is important.
Republic of Korea is a participant in Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPA). The cooperation of Korea hence becomes important for maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region.
RoK can partner India in making the “Make in India” initiative successful.
Co-operation in development of smart cities.
Korean Defence Industry Co-operation in Shipbuilding is vital for India and a memorandum of understanding has also been signed between India-South Korea to cooperate in shipbuilding for military use.
Significance of India to South Korea
India’s developmental requirements provide business opportunities for Korean companies. Example: Digital India, Make in India, Smart City Mission. India is seen as a strategic player in Indo-Pacific.
Aggressiveness of China and its unilateral action in the region brings Republic of Korea and India together to collaborate on regional peace and security.
Significance for the Region
Both countries are cautious and expressed concern over the development of DPRK ’s (North Korea) nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs as this program can be a serious threat to the security situation in the Korean peninsula. Both the countries are committed to the eradication of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.
A vibrant Indian economy and South Korean manufacturing capabilities bring economic opportunities in the region.
Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income.
Cooperation in the field of Electric Power Development and New Energy Industries.
Cooperation in Youth Matters.
Cooperation in the field of Road Transport and Highways.
Cooperation in the fields of Maritime Transport and Logistics.
Both India and South Korea are concerned about China’s rise, especially when China becomes assertive.
Both are increasingly worried about Chinese electronic presence in India.
There are some basic problems which the leaders of India and South Korea would have to tackle. This is also related to the trust between the businesses of India and the businesses of South Korea.
the trust level between the business community of the two countries isn’t at the level where it should be.
Despite the formal announcement of a strategic partnership a decade ago, Delhi and Seoul have struggled to impart some real content into it.
For India, which has begun to adopt the notion of an Indo-Pacific, Korea has not been at top of its regional priorities in Asia.
Prosperity brought by globalisation to Asia over the recent decades is under stress.
India has also been complaining about trade deficit (USD5 billion in 2008-09 to USD 8 billion in 2020-21).
India and South Korea should regularize their summit meetings and that they meet more frequently at the highest level. This will give directions to the business and industry in each country to work together.
South Korea is the most technologically advanced nation in Asia after Japan. Therefore, bringing them Japan on board would be an absolute boost to India’s ability to become a more powerful nation.
There is an urgent need to strengthen economic partnership. As a trade war unfolds between US and China, Delhi and Seoul need to liberalise their own bilateral trade relations.
India would need to work with South Korea on new generation technologies and core technologies, while at the same time consolidating the existing relationship.
The two sides also need to focus on expanding bilateral security and defence cooperation and working together with other countries to promote a stable Asian balance of power system.
Delhi and Seoul should focus on building flexible middle power coalitions in Asia to limit the impact of the current volatility in the relations between US and China.
The business community of both countries must leverage opportunities arising from complementarities between the two economies to enhance investment, to promote joint ventures, and to work towards the goal of raising bilateral trade to $50 billion by 2030″.
At a time when U.S. foreign policy is capricious and unpredictable, and China’s is making purposeful moves towards global domination, it is important that the South Korea-India partnership grows and consolidates, to contribute to stability in the region.
Strong academia-industry related programs in areas such as clean technology, Robotics and Automation can address economic and societal challenges of the two countries. Also, cooperation in space sector has many possibilities.
Besides, a lot of potential exists in areas such as defence & security cooperation, and cyber security. Strong academia-industry related programs.
It is true that India-South Korea relations have risen to the next level but the real test is to ensure that this high momentum of the partnership is sustained.