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Future of Indian-South Korean relations after Prime Minister Modi’s recent visit

Saturday, June 6th, 2015
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As the relationship between India and South Korea has been substantially growing both economically and strategically, it is of greater importance to manage security issues pertaining to both countries, particularly considering that India is a rising Asia-Pacific power

Prime Minister Modi’s recent trip to Korea was heavily tilted towards improving economic engagement with Korea. It is indeed vital to continue strengthening the business relationship, yet it is more important to address international security matters which face both countries, predominantly for subtle business transactions and for the global peace in South and East Asia. Similarly South Korea perhaps should pay more attention to India’s security conflicts with the neighboring countries as President Park Geun-Hye is seeking to establish a manufacturing hub in India in order to explore better opportunities to export to Arab countries. In fact, India has the human  capital to support Korean plans.

Although approximately 300 Korean companies exist in India – including worldly renowned corporations like Samsung, Hyundai and LG – India could attract significantly more Korean companies once ongoing infrastructure projects are completed. The paucity of core infrastructures halts foreign  operations in India. Many companies are aware of golden opportunities, yet India has been slow in responding to real estate  needs and other support to create a business environment - especially in terms of development of ports, roads, railways and more. Here South Korea can assist India in modernizing, upgrading and co-shaping its alliance for a mutually-beneficial partnership in East Asia.

The biggest concern coming out of PM Modi’s visit in May is that defense and strategic issues did not get prominent place during his interaction with Korean authorities. However, both countries do comprehend that ongoing strategic cooperation between the two countries is an essential requirement for establishing peace and prosperity. The tensions in the Korean peninsula and the Indian sub-continent could be the primary focus of the India-Korea defense relationship, as North Korea’s nuclear programs and the security issues in Indian Ocean are expected to give much headache to the leadership of both countries in the near future.

Not only China’s growing military power, and North Korea and Pakistan’s enhanced cooperation on nuclear and missile programs; but also the US Department of Defense’s decreasing military budget, limiting the US military’s future involvement in Asia are emerging as major sources of concern for both counties. Recently the US initiated closer defense ties with India. President Obama’s visit to India in January, followed by the US Defense Secretary Mr. Carter’s visit on June 4, have given a big push to India-USA defense ties. This is great time for Korea to pitch in and make its importance felt in strategic dialogue in the region. Trilateral cooperation between USA, India, and Korea has the potential to reshape the emerging security environment in the region.

It is unfortunate that PM Modi made the mistake of putting too much emphasis on economic engagement while at the same time ignoring security engagement. Prior to his visit in May 2015, a MoU was signed in 2010 between India’s Defense Research and Development Organization and Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration to pursue a research and development cooperation. In addition, India and Korea have signed an agreement in 2011 to cooperate on nuclear energy projects; thus  there was ample of potential to take the work done in 2010 to the next level. Unfortunately nothing of that sort happened. The most important issues were neglected in the excitement of promoting Modi’s pet projects, namely Smart Cities, Digital India and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

Conceivably, it may be the time to endorse the "Balanced East” policy, seeking for a strategically and economically balanced approach for India, while striving for the enrichment of the bilateral and multilateral strategic partnerships with the region for the future peaceful development of Asia in the 21st century.

Jimmy Youn serves as Research Fellow at the Indo-Korea Business and Policy Forum. Mr. Youn served as a legislative intern/aide for U.S Senator Arlen Specter in 2009 in Washington, DC. He received a Master’s Degree in Public Health in Health Policy from Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University. He is currently preparing for a Ph.D. program in  security studies  in the US.

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