Bilateral Relations between India and South Korea

TOPIC: General studies 2:

  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora

One of the major foreign policy initiatives of President Moon Jae-in of South Korea is the government’s ‘New Southern Policy’, with a goal of deepening ties with South East Asian nations as well as India and building an inclusive regional architecture in Asia.

There are two primary reasons for the shift in South Koreas outlook to India:


  • Seoul sees India and the ASEAN countries as new economic partners: by strengthening ties with these countries, South Korea intends to reduce its over-dependence on its traditional trade allies that are China and, partially, the United States.
  • South Korea is making a subtle move to endorse the ‘Indo-Pacific’ geopolitical construct by aligning with India and the ASEAN countries without officially saying so. Central to this shift, however, is the mitigation of its China-related risks.
  • India and South Korea have agreed to boost bilateral trade to $50 billion by 2030 from $20 billion now.

Bilateral Relations

  • Bilateral relations between India and South Korea, officially known as the Republic of Korea, were established in 1962 and upgraded to Ambassador-level in 1973.
  • South Korea’s open market policies found resonance with India’s economic liberalization, and its ‘look east policy’ and ‘act east policy’, leading to the establishment of strong bilateral relations.
  • “India-Republic of Korea (RoK) relations has made great strides in recent years and has become truly multidimensional, spurred by a significant convergence of interests, mutual goodwill and high-level exchanges.

Political relations

  • India played an important and positive role in Korean affairs after the latter’s independence in 1945. During the Korean War (1950- 53), both warring sides accepted a resolution sponsored by India. A ceasefire was declared on July 27, 1953.
  • In February 2006, former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam visited RoK and his visit led to the launch of a Joint Task Force to conclude a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which was operationalized on January 1, 2010.
  • Following this, Korean President Lee paid a visit to India as Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26, 2010. That is when bilateral ties between the two countries were raised to the level of strategic partnership.
  • Both the countries signed the Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation Agreement in 2011 during the then President Pratibha Patil’s state visit to RoK.
  • During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to South Korea in 2015, the bilateral relationship was upgraded to ‘special strategic partnership’.
  • In a joint statement, PM Modi and President Park Geun-hye agreed to establish a ‘2+2’ consultation mechanism at Secretary/Vice Minister of Foreign Office and Defence Ministry.

Commercial relations

  • Trade and economic relations between India and South Korea gathered momentum after the implementation of CEPA in 2010. Bilateral trade between the two countries in 2011 crossed $20.5 billion, registering a 70 percent growth over a two-year period.
  • Indian exports to South Korea stood at $2.91 billion and imports from there stood at $8.71 billion, as at the end of July 2017. This was 26 percent and 30.1 percent higher year on year, respectively.
  • Some of the major items that India exports to South Korea are mineral fuels, oil distillates (mainly naphtha), cereals, iron and steel.
  • Seoul’s main export items are automobile parts, telecommunication equipment, hot rolled iron products, petroleum refined products, base lubricating oils, nuclear reactors, mechanical appliances, electrical machinery and parts, and iron and steel products.

Cultural relations

  • India and South Korea established an Indian Cultural Centre (ICC) in Seoul in April 2011. Another Culture Centre was established in Busan in December 2013.
  • In order to boost people-to-people relations and travel between the two countries, India extended the visa-on-arrival (VoA) facility for South Korean tourists in April 2014.
  • Exchange of youth delegations between India and RoK has been taking place on an annual basis for several years now.
  • Good air connectivity between the two countries has been established with Air India, Asiana Airlines and Korean Air operating flights.

In November 2015, the bilateral civil aviation agreement of 1994 was revised to increase weekly flights between the two countries to 19. This resulted in new operations by Korean Airlines, which then started direct flights to Delhi.

Indias Outlook

  • India also looks at South Korea as an indispensable partner in its Act East Policy (AEP). The two countries are now working towards a new diplomatic mechanism in the 2+2 format. Once it is operationalised, South Korea would become the third country to hold such a dialogue with India, after Japan and the United States.
  • India’s engagement with North Korea during the time of crisis was a carefully designed outreach. As a part of Act East Policy India must further increase its outreach to Korean Peninsula for its own strategic interests and also to provide an alternative to bi-polarization in the region. Several new initiatives are being taken to foster closer people-to-people ties through youth exchange programmes, internships, and facilitation of tourism and business through simplified visa procedures.

The Way Forward:

India needs to take advantage of this opportunity. South Korea can be a major economic partner in India’s economic growth. After all, South Korea, which is Asia’s fourth largest economy, has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world in recent years. South Korean companies are expanding and looking for new investment opportunities in emerging economies. They consider a rising India a good destination for their investment-related activities. Whereas existing South Korean companies in India are expanding their businesses, a large number of new companies are seeking to enter the India market as soon as possible. India must use this opportunity to enhance the presence of South Korean companies in India.




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