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P M’s South Korea visit – A balancing role in the Asia-Pacific Region.
The recent three nation tour by India Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended on May 18, 2015 after the visit of South Korea. Prior to Korea, the Prime Minister also visited China and its northern neighbour Mongolia. Over the last few years, there have been frequent visits by the premiers of both nations to boost the bilateral ties. Earlier in 2012 also, then Indian PM Manmohan Singh visited Seoul followed by a visit by his South Korean counterpart to India in 2014. The latest visit by Indian PM was in furtherance to improve the bilateral relation on geopolitical as well as political grounds. While on one hand Indian PM met the representatives from Korean industries to boost ‘make in India’ drive and bring in additional investment in India, his visit can be viewed as a measure to counter China.
Historical and Cultural Ties
Historical and cultural ties between India and South Korea dates back to the ancient times. According to "SamgukYusa" or "The Heritage History of the Three Kingdoms" written in the 13th century in Korea, a Princess from Ayodhya (Suriratna) in India came to Korea and got married to King Kim-Suro, and became Queen Hur Hwang-ok in the year 48 AD. Several people including some premiers proudly trace their lineage to this royal couple. Korean Buddhist Monk Hyecho or Hong Jiao visited India between 723 to 729 AD. His travelogue "Pilgrimage to the five kingdoms of India" gives a vivid account of Indian culture, politics & society, including food habits, languages & climate.
A new phase of Indian-Korean relations was started in 2006 after the visit of then President of India APJ Abul Kalam to South Korea when a task force was established to conclude Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). The final CEPA agreement was signed in 2010. During the Republic Day celebrations of 2010, President of South Korea was invited as the Chief Guest. In July 2011, both the nations signed bilateral Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation Agreement. In order to boost people-to-people relations and travel between the two countries, India extended visa-on-arrival (VoA) facility for Korean tourists from April 15, 2014.
On May 17-18, Indian PM visited South Korea to improve, expand and deepen the already strong bilateral ties between the two countries. Bilateral trade in 2011 crossed $ 20.5 billion registering a 70% growth over a two year period. A revised trade target of $40 billion by 2015 was set by Indian PM and Korean counterpart in 2012, however, trade between two nations has declined since then. With deeper economic cooperation, both the leaders resolved to improve the bilateral trade. Some major agreements signed between the two leaders include –
- Avoidance of double taxation
- Formalising consultations between National Security Councils of the two nations
- Cooperation in Audio-Visual Coproduction
- Agreement for development of electricity and new energy industries.
- MoU to strengthen and encourage cooperation on youth matters
- Framework of Cooperation (FOC) in the Field of Road Transport and Highways.
- Cooperation in maritime transport and logistics.
In many respects, South Korea and India are found to be complementary economies rather than a competitive one. While India can benefit from their expertise in electronics, steel, shipbuilding, automobiles and infrastructure; South Korea can gain from Indian expertise in software, iron ore, design and frugal innovation skills etc. Besides, the aging South Korea just like Japan can benefit from relatively young Indian population where average age is just around 25 years.
India is the only country with which Korea maintains a security dialogue besides its four neighbouring powers â€• the U.S., China, Japan and Russia. South Korea and India may also become geostrategic partners, with India supporting South Korea’s stance on inter-Korean matters and Seoul throwing its weight behind New Delhi’s balancing role in the Asia-Pacific region.
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