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Growing Institutionalization of India-Korea Ties

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Indian-Korean diplomatic relations have come a long way since they were first set up around 50 years ago. After more than 2000 years of religious and cultural ties, both countries decided to set up diplomatic liaison offices in each other’s capitals in 1962. During the full tide of cold war rivalry, the two nations found themselves in opposing campuses.

However, despite the growing rivalry between superpowers, India and South Korea continued to grow their diplomatic ties together, and upgraded their diplomatic ties to the full ambassadorial level in 1973. Since then they have never looked back. Today India and Korea are enjoying excellent relations in all spheres. Bilateral ties are growing like never before. Trade ties are growing at 30 percent or more per year. A new trade target of US$40 billion in 2015 is said to be easily achievable. Korean investment in India stands at more than US$2.3 billion. Indian companies have also invested more than US$1 billion in Korea.

Giving real push to this relationship is the web of agreements and MoUs which have been signed between these countries in recent years which are providing a sound institutional base. Because this institutional structure has now acquired a life of its own, independent of policy and perspectives of the government of the day, bilateral growth is expected to continue long into the future. Today the Indo-Korean economic relationship is regulated by the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) signed in 2010. This economic agreement has proved to be a boon as mutual trade has been growing more than 30 percent per year since its initial signing. Encouraged by this success, both countries have now set up a joint committee to upgrade the CEPA to take things to a higher level. The second meeting of this committee is planned to be held in Seoul this year.

A joint commission co-chaired by the Foreign Minister and External Affairs Minister of the two countries is now regulating diplomatic relations. Meeting every year alternately in Seoul and New Delhi, the commission is constantly reviewing these growing relations and giving new direction to the fast-developing strategic partnership. The seventh meeting of this commission is scheduled to be held soon in New Delhi. Foreign Policy & Security Dialogue (FPSD), being held at the level of Vice Foreign Minister, MOFAT and Secretary (East), MEA, is also emerging as a useful instrument for exchanging views and harmonizing positions on a variety of bilateral, regional and international issues.

Defense cooperation and defense exchanges are also on the rise. Guiding this cooperation with a strong footing are two MoUs of defense ties signed in 2010. The first of these two regulates and promotes defense-related experience and information, mutual exchange and visits by military personnel and experts, including civilian staff associated with defense services, military education and training and conduct of military exercises, exchange visits of ships and aircraft, as jointly decided between the two countries. The second MoU, signed between Controller of Research and Development of DRDO and Defense Acquisition and Procurement Agency (DAPA), aims at identifying futuristic defense technology areas of mutual interest and pursuing research and development projects in both countries. Strategically, India and Korea are also much closer than ever before. Guiding this cooperation is the India-Korea strategic partnership agreement signed during Korean President Lee’s recent visit to New Delhi. Given the common challenges that both countries are facing in ensuring security against non-conventional threats, both understand the importance of cooperating and consulting with each other in developing a regional architecture in the broader Asia-Pacific region. The fast-changing balance of power and new role of emerging regional powers is being constantly reviewed under this agreement.

In recent years cooperation in the area of science and technology was emerging as a priority between India and Korea. To cement this cooperation both countries had set up an institutional infrastructure. In this regard, the Joint Committee on Science and Technology has been upgraded to the ministerial level. Additionally, a US$10 million joint R&D fund has been set up for research projects, human resource exchange, workshops and other science and technology cooperation programs, which is giving new impetus to cooperation in these fields. An MoU on cooperation between the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Korea Aerospace Research Institute has further strengthened the base for joint work in the area of space research. This has already opened a big window of business opportunity for two both nations in this sector. India is actively participating in the RoK’s international open bidding for the launching of Korean satellites, for example.

Recently, energy has been emerging as another area of mutual interest between the two countries. A bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement signed during Indian president Partiba Patil’s visit to Korea last year is providing the legal framework to this cooperation. Agreement has opened wide opportunities for Korean companies to invest in the Indian nuclear energy sector. The Korean side is said to be actively asking for a site to set up the first Korean nuclear reactors in India.

On the front of cultural relations, great strides have also been made in the recent past. Successful execution of cultural festivals in 2011 have brought together the two cultures like never before. To take these ties further, cultural centers are being set up in both countries (an India cultural center in Seoul has already been set up in 2011 and a Korea cultural center in India is planned for 2012). Growing educational and academic exchange between the two countries is also playing an important role in bringing students and scholars together.

An agreement has also been signed to promote parliamentary and media exchanges. Korea is also said to be playing active role in the establishment of Nalanda University in India to reestablish India’s traditional connect with East Asia. An MoU on cooperation between the Korea National diplomatic Academy and its Foreign Service Institute is certain to bring the diplomatic community of these two countries closer than ever. Agreement on the simplification of visa procedures is expected to promote more people-to-people exchanges in the near future.

Both countries have also agreed to cooperate on global economic and financial issues (within the G-20 process). They are also consulting each other on UN reforms, including security council expansion. Global hot spots such as the Gulf, West Asia and North Africa are also getting due attention from both partners. Recognizing that any disruption of peace on Korean peninsula will have worldwide economic and strategic ramifications, India is actively advocating a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear and missile program. In order to keep sea lanes of communication open and safe from piracy and terrorism, India is advocating closer cooperation with the Korean navy. Both countries have also agreed to cooperate within the UN framework in adopting the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, and also within the East Asia summit to make sure the process is not high-jacked by one country or a group of countries.

Apart from these major agreements and MoUs, there exist dozens of other bilateral agreements promoting smooth functioning of cooperation between the two countries. Given all this, India-Korea ties have been put on very strong footing and thus are expected to continue expanding for many decades to come.

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