By Jinwoog Kim
India-South Korea relations date back many centuries to the time when the princess of Ayodhya married Kim Suro, the King of Gaya. Their descendants are still known to visit Ayodhya every year to pay homage to their ancestral maternal roots. Buddhism, which originated in India, reached Korea thorugh China and remains a dominant religion on the Peninsula. Currently, the most prominent links are through numerous academic exchanges between India and South Korea. The Korean Foundation provides scholarships to Indian students who wish to study the sciences and humanities in South Korea. Also, Korean language courses are taught at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University and The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad. In addition to these cultural and social exchanges, strides have also been made in economic, trade and diplomatic ties. This article will look at the developments in Indo-South Korean linkages that have developed thus far, and their future potential.
The most recent overture was the civil nuclear cooperation agreement between India and the ROK, signed between Indian President Pratibha Patil and the President of the Republic of South Korea (ROK) Lee Myung-bak in a summit meet in July this year. The safety of nuclear power plants have been repeatedly questioned post Fukushima, indeed, the Indian public protested against the construction of the proposed Jaitapur nuclear power plant by French company, Areva. South Korea specializes in the construction sector whether it be plants, housing, roads or ports. President Lee is himself an engineer and was earlier the chairman of the Hyundai Company which is diversified into automobiles, construction and ship-building. It is for this reason that South Korea can confidently provide the best earthquake-resistant and safe plants to India under the auspices of the civilian cooperation agreement. South Korea has developed a world-class civil nuclear power plant which contributes up to 40 per cent of the total electricity of South Korea, the safety standards of which has the IAEA stamp of approval.
The two leaders reached an understanding on Social Security Agreement implementation arrangements, aviation and shipping agreements and the prevention of double taxation. India and South Korea will meet and discuss important strategic issues in the Nuclear Summit 2012 to be held in Seoul, ROK. In addition, both countries also cooperate at the international level on issues of mutual interest such as climate change.
Over 300 Korean companies working in India have made huge foreign direct investments in many sectors of the Indian economy. Presently there are some land acquisition and rehabilitation problems for the establishment of a mega steel power plant in Odisha (Orissa) by the world renowned steel company, POSCO. A strategic partnership has already been signed between South Korea and India in February 2010 which has improved. The CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement) is progressing well in trade investment and human exchange and has further potential to improve the Indo-South Korean relationship.
Despite the above developments, however, there is still a significant amount of scope for strategic cooperation between the two countries. South Korea has a long experience of modern ship-building; the shipbuilding industries are very specialized and possess state-of-the-art technologies, such as the Hyundai Ship-building Company. India is an emerging power in South Asia whose strategic maritime location at the head of the Indian being can hardly be ignored. In this regard, therefore, South Korean ship-building technology and expertise can be of great assistance to India for commercial ship-building as well as for defence purposes, such as the construction of aircraft carriers.
Another area of cooperation is in the defence sector, particularly joint military and naval exercises, which would help both countries to modernize their training processes. South Korea has made advancements in anti-guerrilla warfare operating at the Corps of Special Warfare, the knowledge of which can be useful to India in managing terrorism and border road development. India, on its part, is highly skilled in the training of soldiers and army officers. Indian defence institutes such as the National Defence Academy (Pune), Officers’ Training Academy (Chennai), and Indian Military Academy (Dehradun) are recognized centres of excellence and hence have a lot of guidance to offer to South Korea.
President, Korea Research Institute for Military Affairs, Seoul