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India and South Korea:TIME TO GO BEYOND ECONOMICS, byPrakash Nanda,29 January 2010 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 29 January 2010

India and South Korea



By Prakash Nanda


Apart from displaying its military prowess and cultural diversities, India’s Republic Day celebrations every year reveal also a foreign-policy goal. The country’s invitation to a foreign head of the government as its chief guest is a careful pointer to the priority that New Delhi attaches to the guest and his or her country in its foreign policy.

This year the chief guest was South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. Obviously, India and for that matter the Republic of Korea - South Korea in public parlance- want their relations not to remain low-profile any longer. After all, India is the third largest economy of Asia and South Korea the fourth. Over the past decade or so, the bilateral trade between the two nations has improved steadily--$530 million in 1992-93 to $16 billion now. 

South Korea is the fifth largest investor in India. In fact, in the infrastructure sector, the country is the third largest investor. If everything goes well, Posco, South Korea’s largest steel maker will start a $ 2-billion worth of project in Orissa, and this will become the single largest foreign direct investment (FDI) in India.

South Korean business groups such as Hyundai, Samsung, Daewoo, LG, Dalnia Telecommunications and others have an active business presence in India already and are expanding their businesses into different sectors. There is now an increased focus on cooperation between small and medium companies of the two countries.

As can be seen above, economic dimensions have dominated the India-ROK relations. But it is equally important that the ties must go beyond economics. As is the trend in international politics these days, friendly countries must indulge in talks that will lead to them being “strategic partners”.

After all, South Asia and Northeast Asia are among the major trouble spots of the world. In South Asia, the prevailing war-like situation between India and Pakistan and in North-East Asia the intensifying tense situation in the Korean peninsula have evoked global attention because of their potentials to challenge the stability not only in their respective regions but also in the whole of Asia and rest of the world.

In essence, the problem is the division of each of the regions, which once was a single country, into two or more sovereign entities. Both South Korea and North Korea (the so-called Democratic Republic of Korea-DPRK) are not reconciled with the division and swear by the reunification of the peninsula. The problem here is over the manner of the reunification, that is, whether it would be on ROK’s terms or the way as envisaged by the DPRK.  While the ROK is prepared for a slow, steady and peaceful progress towards the eventual reunification, the DPRK continues to show its aggressive designs on the ROK and lambaste its democratic regime.

On the other hand, in South Asia, though there are fringe elements who would like the restoration of undivided India, undoing the partition is not the state-policy of any of these countries. The problem here, however, is Pakistan’s contention that the division or partition is still incomplete, something that India is not reconciled to.  Pakistan has had eyed on many areas that are integral parts of India, the most famous being Kashmir. 

The second common element in South Asia and North- East Asia is that while the democratic regimes in India and the ROK are keen to extend their hands of friendship to Pakistan and the DPRK respectively, their offers are, more often than not, being rebuffed in some form or the other. And coincidentally, both Pakistan and the DPRK are essentially authoritarian countries, deeply controlled by their respective military wings.

The third feature common to South Asia and North East Asia is the fact that both are nuclearised.  In the case of South Asia, both India and Pakistan are declared and tested nuclear weapon powers. As regards the Korean peninsula, it is an open secret that both the Koreas posses the know-how to make nuclear weapons. In the case of North Korea, the country is suspected to have already possessed two or three bombs in its arsenal. .

And what is most worrisome is the growing linkage between Pakistan and North Korea in the field of developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It is now open knowledge that North Korea is helping Pakistan in the field of missiles and Pakistan is assisting North Korea in the area of nuclear know-how, and both are doing this under the Chinese supervision.  Pakistan supplied enrichment technology to North Korea beginning in 1998 in exchange for missiles.

Interestingly, as is the case with Pakistan, which is not reconciled with India’s democratic and secular polity, North Korea is not happy with the prevailing democratic system in South Korea. Likewise, both Pakistan and North Korea blackmail the rest of the world and demand international attention and economic assistance, mainly because of their possession of missile-power and nuclear know-how.

It is imperative, therefore, that both India and ROK must have close relations to confront the threat from Pakistan-China and DPRK axis. The China-factor is something that India and South Korea have to contend with. China is the biggest common link between Pakistan and North Korea. Viewed thus, New Delhi and Seoul must try to add a new element in their relationship. India’s Pakistan policy has implications for South Korea and South Korea’s North Korea policy has implications for India. To go a step further, it is time India’s policy towards the Korean Peninsula (meaning both the Koreas) and South Korea’s policy towards South Asia (meaning India and Pakistan) became mutually reinforcing.

This is all the more so because in the post-Cold War period there are a number of trends underway, both militarily and politically, which suggest that a more genuine Asian balance of power, created and maintained by States within Asia, could be in the making. In this scheme of things, security of the nations of the region (Asia) can no longer be defined in purely military terms, but must be cooperative enough to include the growing number of non-military issues (economic conflict, population movements, narcotics, transnational environmental problems, and religious and ethnic nationalism).

The manifestation of this sort of “cooperative security” in Asia is already apparent with the establishment of multilateral organisations like the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference (PMC), the Council for Security Cooperation in Asia Pacific (CSCAP) and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). While South Korea is a member of all bodies, India is a full-fledged member of ARF and PMC and an associate member of CSCAP. It is also keen to join the APEC. 

However, the fact remains that India and South Korea are co-members of the ARF and PMC. This is a positive development for their working together closely. A stable and increasingly prosperous India plainly serves the interests of the whole of Southeast Asia and East Asia, including that of South Korea—and not just as a vast new market for goods and services. India also helps ensure that vital oil supplies from West Asia can transit smoothly through the Indian Ocean on their way to the East. --INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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