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Strategic Convergence of Interests in India-Republic of Korea Ties

The year 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Republic of Korea (RoK). During the past four decades, bilateral ties have made remarkable advances in a wide range of sectors, including politics, economy and culture. The two countries are sincerely working hard to strengthen their strategic partnership on regional and global stage. Mutual bilateral commitment were noticed when ROK’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se noted with appreciation on the progress made during the past four decades to visiting Secretary (East) of India’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ashok K. Kantha for the Third RoK-India Vice-Ministerial Foreign Policy and Security Dialogue in Seoul on 2 September 2013. The Indian delegation also included Ambassador Vishnu Prakash and senior representatives of the Ministries of External Affairs, Defence and Civil Aviation.

Indeed, the two countries have a great potential for cooperation in foreign and security affairs by vitalizing high-level exchanges and the consultative channel between their national security authorities, and people-to-people as well as cultural exchanges. There is mutual resolve to expand their economic cooperation by improving their Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and revising their aviation agreement.

While Kantha led the Indian delegation for The Third RoK-India Vice-Ministerial Foreign Policy and Security Dialogue, the RoK delegation was led by First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Kyou-hyun. After forging their strategic partnership in 2010, both countries upgraded the Dialogue to a vice-ministerial consultative mechanism in a bid to strengthen their strategic cooperation in foreign and security affairs. Following in-depth discussion on matters of mutual concern, it also covered ways to move their cooperation forward down the road, the current situation on the Korean peninsula and RoK’s policy towards North Korea, and ways to work together on regional and global stage.

Kantha and members off his delegation also met with Ambassador Ju Chul-ki, Senior Secretary to the President for Foreign Affairs and National Security. Foreign Minister Yun will visit India in early November for the bilateral Joint Commission Meeting and to participate in the ASEM Foreign Ministers Meeting. The two sides discussed the possible outcomes from the forthcoming visit to India of the President Park Geun-hye. It was agreed that the 4th India-RoK Foreign Policy and Security Dialogue will be held at New Delhi at a mutually convenient time in 2014.

Since forging their bilateral strategic partnership and concluding the CEPA in 2010, the two countries have advanced their cooperative ties by boosting high-level exchanges and trade. Indeed, amid rapid changes in the regional environment, the two countries have great room for cooperation as partners on the international stage that share such common values as democracy. There is tremendous scope for cooperation in areas such as science and aerospace. The RoK hopes to set up a channel for strategic communication on foreign and security affairs, consolidate the institutional framework for economic cooperation, such as by improving the CEPA, and deepen bilateral relations through increased people-to-people and cultural exchanges.

Cyber and maritime security issues have emerged important in recent times. The RoK is going to host a Conference on Cyberspace in October 2013 and expects India’s active role in this conference. After the assumption to office by President Park Geun-hye in December 2012, the RoK government has initiated sincere efforts for the trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula. The new government has adopted a principled and consistent policy towards North Korea, as demonstrated in the inter-Korean agreement to resume the operations of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex.

When North Korea conducted the third nuclear test, India issued a statement denouncing it. The RoK has much expectation from India to leverage over North Korea to change. For India, North Korea’s nuclear development has negative impact on the security of both the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia and India shall be doing whatever role it can play to the RoK’s trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula.

Indeed, both India and the RoK have emerged two important agents of unprecedented integration of East and South Asia. In March 2009, at a conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, former President Lee Myung-bak heralded the establishment of a “New Asia Initiative.” The initiative aimed to confirm and expand RoK’s role as an emerging middle power, by assuming a pivotal role in representing the interests of Asian nations on the world stage. The vision for a “New Asia Initiative” incorporates Korea’s entering FTAs with all Asian nations and the creation of a low-carbon “green” growth belt in the Asia-Pacific region. During his visit to India in 2010, President Lee emphasized that the trip was a reflection of Korea’s conducting a “New Asia Diplomacy” campaign to further ties with Asian countries, begun with resolute efforts in 2008 to boost relations with the four powers in the region, the US, China, Japan, and Russia.

As an extraordinarily successful nation that went from rags to riches through only a few decades of accelerated industrialization and economic growth, South Korea has the confidence, knowledge, and moral authority to facilitate dialogue between developing and developed nations. In its turn, India has also pursued a “Look East Policy” since the end of the Cold War, aiming to foster trade and security ties with Asian nations. India is currently focused on economic integration with Asia, and the CEPA with the world’s 13th largest economy is an important stepping stone in that process. While the complementarity of RoK’s “New Asia Initiative” and India’s “Look East” policy is evident, the two countries have played an essential role in building bridges between East and South Asia. The RoK and India have acted as hubs generating bilateral FTAs in the region and beyond, thus resulting in an unprecedented degree of integration between East and South Asia. President Park is following the policy of her predecessor and working to deepen further. The 3rd dialogue just concluded is another milestone in that initiative.

( The writer, Dr.Rajaram Panda, is a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi. E-mail: rajaram_panda@yahoo.co.in).

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