ROK-India Summit Meeting: South Korea’s “New Asia Initiative” Converges with India’s “Look East Policy”
Beginning of Korea-India Relations, Shrouded in Legend
Every year, India traditionally invites a foreign head of state to attend the anniversary of the establishment of the Indian Republic in 1950. The guest of honor on the occasion of the Indian Republic’s 61st anniversary was South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak. Prior to President Lee’s summit meeting with Indian President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manhohan Singh in New Delhi, on Monday, January 25, many Koreans remembered that the beginnings of KoreaIndia relations were shrouded in legend and history. According to Samguk Yusa, a Korean 11th century compilation of stories and legends, Huh Hwang-ok, an Indian princess from a kingdom in Ayodhya, sailed to the ancient Korean kingdom of Gaya in the first century A.D. to find the love of her life in the person of King Suro of the Gaya Kingdom. The Huh and Kim families from Gimhae in South Gyeongsang Province claim Princess Huh and King Suro as their ancestors, and recent archaeological and DNA evidence seems to confirm a genetic link between these South Korean clans and ethnic groups in India.
Astounding Potential for Cooperation
Beyond the fascination of a 2,000 year old love story, the success of the recent South Korea–India summit meeting is clear indication that synergies and opportunities for ever greater cooperation between the two countries are tremendous. Between 2002 and 2008, trade between South Korea and India grew from $2.6 billion to $15.6 billion, although it dropped rather sharply to $11.4 billion in 2009, due to the global financial turmoil. During the summit meeting, President Lee and Prime Minister Singh agreed that, through the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), the bilateral free trade agreement that entered into force on January 1, 2010, the trade volume between the two countries will more than double by the year 2014, up to $30 billion. CEPA targets the elimination or lowering of import duties on 85 percent of Korea's exports to India, and 90 percent of India’s exports to South Korea by the year 2019. CEPA was the first free trade agreement (FTA) signed by India and an OECD member state, and the first FTA signed with a BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) country.