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C3S Event Report: India- South Korea-China: An Insightful Academic Interaction

, dated February 8, 2017

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C3S Report No: 001/2017

The Chennai Centre for China Studies held an interaction with a South Korean delegation at C3S on January 27 2017. Dr. Young Chul Cho, Assistant Professor at the Jimmy Carter School of International Studies, Chonbuk National University, South Korea was accompanied by nine of his students at the event.

Commodore R. Seshadri Vasan, Indian Navy (Retd.), Director, C3S, Head, Strategy and Security Studies, Center for Asia Studies (CAS) and Regional Director, National Maritime Foundation-Chennai Chapter welcomed the gathering. The ancient ties between India and South Korea were recalled, especially the affiliation between Tamil and South Korean language. Dr. Young Chul Cho was introduced. He completed his PhD at the University of Manchester in 2008. His areas of research interest are: Korean Studies with focus on Politics & Culture; Area Studies in Asia: China, Japan and India; International Relations of the Asia-Pacific; Asian Nationalism; Critical and Popular Geopolitics and Social Research Methods. Many of his works on East Asia have been published and he has also written a book titled “Introduction to Political Science” (2011).

C3S members and research officers gave their perspectives on India-South Korea-China relations. Shri B. S. Raghavan, Former Policy Advisor to UN (FAO), Chief Secretary, State, Governments of West Bengal and Tripura, Secretary to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, GOI, & Patron, C3S termed the Korean students as ‘Ambassadors of South Korea’. People to people relations play a crucial role in determining government to government ties between countries. India and Korea share civilizational ties. For instance in 48 C.E, the Princess of Ayodhya married King Suro of Korea. Zooming to the present, the Indian government has created strong ties with the country via Act East Policy. Measures taken in December 2014 and May 2015 witnessed an increase in subsequent bilateral trade and investment. In addition, India has a lot to learn from South Korea, given that the latter is a small country – the size of Gujarat state in India- and yet has progressed tremendously.

On the subject of India-China ties, Shri Raghavan described himself as an ‘incurable optimist’. In fact, India, China, South Korea and Japan have the potential to form a quadrilateral termed as ‘U.S.A- United States of Asia’, to stand as equal to the United States of America. It will be interesting the outcome on India-China ties due to US President Donald Trump. Trump was described as a “brisk, no-nonsense, tit-for-tat, tweeting president”, who will change the face of diplomacy and use Twitter as a channel of effect.

Prof. Suryanarayan, Former Nelson Mandela Professor for Afro-Asian Studies, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam; Former Director, Centre for South and South East Asian Studies, University of Madras ; & President, C3S, expressed there is a lot of scope to increase India-Korea people-people relations by focusing more on each other’s countries in the educational curriculum. There are historical roots to the gap as well: Post independence, India was non-aligned while South Korea tilted towards U.S.A. Coming to Sino- Indian relations, it was recalled that one of India’s governmental point of view was to create ‘Chindia’, that is, the coming together of the two countries to shape and lead world development. However, Indian media amplifies China related issues while the need of the hour is a more balanced view. At C3S, an equilibrium perspective is adopted.

Col. R. Hariharan, VSM, Retired Officer of Intelligence Corps, India & Member, C3S, examined South Korea from a security perspective, given his expertise of the country’s geopolitics. It was noted that as time has progressed, talk of reunification of the two Koreas has been forgotten. However, there is spotlight on the THAAD issue. In addition, China-Japan-South Korea triangle is set to be the centre of focus of the international system.

Mr. K. Subramanian, Former Joint Secretary (Retd.), Ministry of Finance, Government of India, cast light on Indian and Chinese economies. While China began its economic modernization in 1979 and India in 1991, China in the first 15-20 years had economic policies which were state driven and state owned enterprise. The country concentrated on export and investment oriented economy. On the other hand, India became a ‘victim’ of IMF, an international organization which holds up the Neo-Classical school of thought. India today has more than 50 billion dollars in trade deficit. India depends on high imports, and it will need measures such as infrastructure development and preferential tariffs to overcome challenges. One possible advantage is the ‘Trump card’ which may help India.

Ms. Asma Masood, Research Officer, C3S described the socio-cultural contours of Sino-Indian relations. She explained that Chinese media portrays very little importance to India. Many Chinese hold misperceptions about our country, especially about the extent of poverty and the progress of women. This calls for greater collaboration in the people-to-people domain in order to bring clarity in perspective. One initiative by C3S is Young Minds of C3S, a youth-based forum for sharing knowledge and brainstorming ideas on China and its international relations, as well as on improving Sino-Indian bilateral relations.

Mr. Vithiyapathy P., Research Officer, C3S conveyed the views of an Indian acquaintance in South Korea, a research scholar, who commended the Koreans’ dedication and hard-working nature. There is a tremendous exchange of students and technology between India and South Korea. Interestingly, Korean products are competing for space with Chinese products in India. While some Chinese goods are getting banned in India, this can create room for Korean products to establish themselves. On South Korea-India relations, cultural aspects are strong. Many South Indians are fond of South Korean soap operas and movies.

Mr. Sundeep Kumar S., Research Officer, C3S noted that South Korean companies like Hyundai have a strong presence in Chennai. Similarly, focus should be given to areas of Sino-Indian cooperation, rather than the negative dynamics. There are multiple arenas of convergence available, such as sports, education and media. Media collaboration is vital to stabilize perceptions.

Cmde. Vasan pointed out the primary challenges between India and China relations: trade imbalance, maritime issues, One Belt One Road, China blocking India from getting NSG membership, and land border dispute. China is engaging in small countries via investments in order to influence their strategic plans. While OBOR is aimed at gaining China access to the Arabian Sea, China-Myanmar ties are being galvanized for China’s entry into the Bay of Bengal and therefore the Indian Ocean. In fact, China is looking at setting up naval bases in the Indian Ocean Region such as the one in Djibouti, Africa. Both the strategies involving Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal are meant to combat the Malacca Dilemma. The Malacca Dilemma is a term to describe a situation whereby China could face a strategic block in the narrow straits of Malacca, which is the transport route for China’s energy supplies from the Middle East.

Dr. Young Chul Cho highlighted South Korea-China relations. Korea was once a colony of Japan, and gained independence in 1945. Following the Korean War, South Korea has close ties with U.S.A. South Korea perceived China as a threat from 1950-1991. Their relations improved after the Cold War. Today, Korean elements such as K-Pop music and other entertainment channels are very popular in China. Confucianism is also followed in South Korea. The two countries are connected by hundreds of airline flights weekly.

However South Korea faces certain challenges. It is surrounded by four major powers- U.S.A, Russia, China and Japan and hence feels comparatively weaker. Besides, South Korea-U.S.A ties are creating a gap in relations between Delhi and Seoul. Nevertheless, Seoul needs to maintain strong ties with Washington D.C to uphold Asian security. On the other hand, some South Koreans feel that relations with China should be strengthened, as Beijing heads a rising power. As of now, relations are ‘icy’ and are based on cultural, not political foundations. According to Dr. Young, China has power and wealth but “lacks respect and values”. Contrastingly, India and South Korea “give priority to values”.

An insightful interaction followed between Chennai’s strategic community and the visiting South Korean students.

Cmde. Vasan gave the vote of thanks.

(Compiled by Asma Masood, Research Officer, C3S.)

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