Deepening India -­ South Korea ties   
#GS2 #International Relations 

  • India and South Korea have signed numerous bilateral agreements with the aim of taking their ties to the next level.  
  • However, the economic partnership is struck at $22 billion annually, and their defence partnership appears to have receded from great all­-round promise to the mere sale and purchase of weapon systems.   


  • Increasingly, Seoul’s political elite are coming to view India and the ASEAN countries as new economic partners, driven by their need to reduce over-dependence on traditional trade allies like China and the United States. 
  • Seoul’s new robust outreach is also driven by its desire to endorse the ‘Indo-Pacific’ construct by aligning with regional states. This ties in well with India’s own approach that recognizes the Indo-Pacific as a region of strategic interest. 
  • New Delhi, too, has been keen to strengthen bilateral ties with South Korea. India sees the ROK as an indispensable partner in its ‘Act-East’ strategy, with the potential to contribute to peace, stability and security in the Asia Pacific Region.  

India-S.Korea so far 

  • It was only in 1962 that the two countries established consular relations. This was then 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. 
  • 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. 


  • Since the early 2000s, India and South Korea have cooperated in search-and-rescue and anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean. South Korea, like Japan, remains concerned with India’s ability to provide maritime security in vital sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean Region, including through the Strait of Malacca. 
  • The South Korean defence industry had been virtually locked out of the Indian arms market throughout the Cold War and immediately thereafter. After 2005, defence industry cooperation between India and South Korea picked up some degree of momentum with projects like the joint development of self-propelled artillery and mine-countermeasure vessels. 
  • India and ROK cooperates regularly in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. 
  • In January 2010, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh upgraded ties to a “strategic partnership” that included an enhanced focus on political and security cooperation. 
  • South Korean defence industry, Samsung-Techwin, and India’s Larsen & Toubro have entered into an agreement for the sale of 100 howitzers in May 2017. 
  • Recent visit by Defence Minister to S.Korea resulted in two far-reaching agreements:  
    • To extend logistical support to each other’s navies, and  
    • To deepen defence educational exchanges.  

The agreement on naval logistics sharing is a particularly significant one, as it is an arrangement that India presently shares only with the US and France. 

  • In 2019, the Indian Army inducted the K9 VAJRA-T 155mm/ 52, a tracked self-propelled howitzer, which has its roots in the K9 Thunder, the mainstay of the South Korean Army. 

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. 

Cultural Prejudice 

  • Cultural prejudices on both sides, which stands in the way of a relationship based on openness, curiosity and warmth.  
  • Whatever bilateral progress has been made, say in the realm oftrade and investment, has not lent sufficient momentum that people start building bridges in other areas.  
  • Within South Korea, the integration of Indians in the local population is far from complete. There have been some instances of what appears to be racial prejudice or discrimination, including toward Indians in work settings in South Korea.  
  • As in any relationship, mutual respect regarding cultural values is the key to building a robust partnership between two countries.  

Way Forward 

  • The establishment of the Indian Culture Centre (ICC) in Seoul 10 years ago was a step in the right direction. Its mission was to promote people­-to-­people contacts.  
  • It may reach an exponentially wider audience if the focus of such efforts was the common man of South Korea, beyond the urban, English-­speaking elite of Seoul. The same may be applicable to South Korean culture centres in India   
    India and South Korea may need each like never before, to protect their ways of life.  
  • Both countries will be able to help each other only if they can fill the cultural gaps.  
  • A regional hegemon is already pushing hard into the ambit of the Indian Ocean.  The sooner these bonds are renewed the better it would be for all Asian democracies.   
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