Ending a 19 -year long hiatus and doing an essential course correction with its “strategic partner”, the Republic of South Korea, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has decided on a bilateral visit to Seoul next month.
The last Prime Ministerial visit from India to South Korea was in 1993 when P.V.Narasimha Rao, the architect of India’s “Look East” Policy, came to the country.
Singh will be in Seoul on March 25 for a bilateral visit and stay on for the next two days to participate in the second edition of the Nuclear Security Summit, a brainchild of the US President Barack Obama that was launched in Washington in April, 2010.
As India’s cooperation has expanded and deepened with countries in the region the policy has come to be known as “Engaging with the East,” with regular visits between Delhi and the other capitals in the region. In the past two decades, there have been a number of high-level visits between India and South Korea too, including state visits by their respective Presidents to each other’s country. But in South Korea the President has executive power, which in India lies with the Prime Minister. Therefore, sources say, Singh’s proposed visit to Seoul is being seen and awaited with much keenness and interest by the South Korean leadership.
Besides entering into a “strategic partnership”, the two sides also have a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and one on Cooperation in Civil Nuclear Energy. Trade between the two countries has been flourishing and had already touched the $ 20 billion mark last year, with the potential of surpassing $ 30 billion by 2014. South Korean companies are a dominant force in the Indian white goods market and investors from ROK have established themselves as key players in the country’s infrastructure sector.
Though it did not have a head-start when India began to open up its economy in the early 1990s, over the years ROK has established itself as a major economic partner of India. South Korean brands like Hyundai, LG and Samsung are today household names in most Indian cities and towns. South Block officials acknowledge that the main initiative of this engagement from Seoul came from “Corporate Korea” rather than the political leadership. But since the corporate leaders work in tandem with the political leadership in South Korea, it did not take long for the ROK government to recognize India’s potential as an attractive market for its products and investments and also as a country with which to develop a strategic partnership.
The absence of a Prime Ministerial visit from India to the country, however, has been an area of disappointment for the South Korean leadership. Singh had come to Seoul in November, 2010 to attend the Summit meeting of the G-20 countries, but not on a bilateral visit. Therefore, when he comes to Seoul next month, his visit—though mainly of a symbolic value—will add an important element to the bilateral ties that had so far been missing.
Singh will spend only a day for bilateral talks with the South Korean leadership in Seoul. But he comes at a time when a number of developments at the bilateral, regional and global levels are taking place. A Presidential election is due in South Korea at the year-end and it may provide Singh with the opportunity of acquainting himself with the future leadership of the country. Besides, a change of leadership has taken place in North Korea and one is due in China by autumn this year. Developments in South China Sea, the impact of China’s rise and its possible impact in the region as well as US’ reassertion in East Asia, coupled with developments in West Asia and the worrying health of the global economy—are all issues of importance and concern to both India and South Korea.
Another important area between the two sides is on defence cooperation, particularly between the two navies. Both India and South Korea have “blue water navy” and close cooperation and joint exercises will only help their respective navies to learn from each other. ROK with its expertise in ship-building and construction of ports and naval bases is also keen to play an important role in India’s proposed maritime projection and expansion.
South Korea also has expertise in the field of civil nuclear technology, particularly in constructing nuclear reactors, developing fuels and handling nuclear waste. With India opening up its civil nuclear energy market and seeking outside participation, South Korea is also keen to deepen its cooperation with Delhi in this sector.
The presence of Indian companies and businesses too, has been growing in South Korea. Many Indian entrepreneurs are keen to set up more joint venture projects with their South Korean counterparts in their respective countries and deepen their economic and trade ties.
The long-awaited visit by the Indian Prime Minister to Seoul next month is likely to ensure that the multifaceted ties between India and South Korea not only remain on track but also continue to grow at a steady pace in the coming days.
Nice article, and good that India and South Korea are drawing closer. But there is still an 'empathy' gap between the two countries, and most of it belongs to South Korea. A major problem of modern East Asians, is that they are weak in abstract thinking. Thus, you won't find those incisive, witty, eloquent assessments of India, that distinguishes many American or British commentators. Which doesn't mean that all Americans or British are eloquent, far from it. But at least there are those types, to more than balance the crude bozo folk. The East Asians are too much to the this earth earthy side, to really appreciate a country like India, which needs a multi-sided approach. And then there's the question of historical empathy, in which again the East Asians are lacking.
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