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Deepening India South Korea ties

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    27th Jul, 2020

India-Republic of Korea (RoK) relations have made great strides in recent years and have become truly multidimensional, spurred by a significant convergence of interests, mutual goodwill, and high-level exchanges.


India-Republic of Korea (RoK) relations have made great strides in recent years and have become truly multidimensional, spurred by a significant convergence of interests, mutual goodwill, and high-level exchanges.

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.

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 two years.
  • Bilateral Trade India’s share in Korea’s global trade was 1.89% in 2018, India’s contribution to Korea’s global imports increased from 0.78% in 2001 to 1.10% in 2018. India is Korea’s 20th biggest source for imports and the 7th biggest export market as of 2018.
  • India and South Korea have set a target to increase bilateral trade to $50 billion by 2030 from $20 billion in 2017-18 and to speedily conclude negotiations to upgrade the bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Indian Culture Centre (ICC) attempts to broaden base and appreciation of Indian culture by, for example, teaching south Indian dances to elementary school students in South Korea, or organising experiential sessions centred on Indian cuisine, are commendable.

The India-South Korea Advantage

  • India is a key focus area in South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s New Southern Policy (NSP) which complements Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphasis on an Act East Policy (AEP).
  • South Korea’s technological expertise and the capital base found a very attractive match in India’s expanding consumer base and lucrative market potential.
  • Popular South Korean brands in India are on expansion mode. Research and Development (R&D) centres of Samsung and LG Electronics in Bengaluru are their latest, outside of Korea, and Hyundai’s R&D centre at Hyderabad is one of its five global hubs.
  • To propel this relationship and ease business issues, the Indian government has set up a Korea Plus initiative under Invest India which has facilitated numerous business queries.
  • On its part, the South Korean government has established a New Trade Order Strategy Office and decided to form a Korea-India Future Strategy Group and the India-Korea Centre for Research and Innovation Cooperation. The Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency is also spreading its work in India.
  • The tensions between India and China create a common interest for both South Korea and India.

Some issues

  • 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.
  • At the heart of this bilateral stasis is the fact that, despite the best efforts of many well-intended leaders, Indians and South Koreans are failing to touch a mutually meaningful chord of empathy and move closer to each other as people. This is at least in part due to cultural prejudices on both sides, which stands in the way of a relationship based on openness, curiosity and warmth.
  • It is not that efforts to correct distortions in such perception have been wanting. Yet, clearly, whatever bilateral progress has been made, say in the realm of trade and investment, has not lent sufficient momentum that people start building bridges in other areas. So, for example, there may be a widespread perception among South Koreans of India as a third world country, rife with poverty and hunger.
  • It is often the case that Indians are unable to distinguish between the cultural and social characteristics of South Koreans and people of other East Asian nations.


As the two countries come closer, it is pertinent to reflect on poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s evocative poem Lamp of the East which revolves around Korea’s promisingly bright future: “In the golden age of Asia Korea was one of its lamp bearers, and that lamp is waiting to be lit once again for the illumination of the East”. India and Korea seem set to light that lamp together. 


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