By Nicholas Hamisevicz
South Korean President Park Geun-hye travelled to India this week for her first overseas trip in 2014. After meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on January 16, the two sides issued a “Joint Statement for Expansion of the Strategic Partnership.” Expansion is an accurate way to describe current relations between South Korea and India as government meetings, economic activity, and cultural recognition between the two countries has been on the rise since the beginning of the Korea-India strategic partnership in 2010. However, despite these growing ties, both sides feel they have not met the full potential of the relationship.
President Park’s visit brought about some new areas of cooperation between the two sides and an impetus to find ways for better economic and political cooperation. Yet, it will be up to both governments to consistently meet and to continue to push for greater access for the private sector in both countries in order gain the full benefits of bilateral relations.
Korea’s cooperation with India has gained momentum after each summit meeting since 2000. The summits help move the relationship along and provide the catalyst for important bilateral meetings to take place. Prior to Park Geun-hye’s visit there were multiple meetings, such as the trade and finance ministers meetings a few weeks earlier and the India-Japan-Korea trilateral track II dialogue in November 2013, that helped to move the relationship forward.
It is especially important that Korea-India relations gain renewed emphasis and attention in 2014 with India set to hold elections later this year, likely resulting in a new leader. Progress with South Korea-India relations in early 2014, along with scheduled and expected meetings as a result of the summit, will help cement the necessity of the relationship in the minds of the potential new leaders in India.
Enhancing economic cooperation and opportunities between Korea and India was a large theme during this trip. Both Korea and India have strong economies that have not done as well as people would have hoped in recent years. Moreover, economic interaction between the two countries has also been underperforming. Korea and India are well short of the pace needed to hit the previously stated goal of $40 billion in trade by 2015. The two sides might be moving the goal posts back as a new target of $100 billion in trade by 2020 was discussed in Park Geun-hye’s interview with Doordarshan TV before she left for India.
An updated Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), better market access for both countries, increased nuclear cooperation, and a few new military contracts will all likely be needed to hit the new 2020 target. Much of the work prior to the visit helped produce agreements on avoiding double taxation, banking cooperation, and smoother travel and visa processes to try to increase economic interaction between the two countries.
Park Geun-hye spent much of her day in India on January 17 in various economic and business meetings trying to encourage greater economic cooperation. Moving forward, Korea and India have the appropriate meetings and processes to develop a better economic environment for increased activity between the two sides; it will just be a matter of having enough political and economic will on the respective domestic fronts to make it happen.
Beyond economics, the two sides wanted to demonstrate their political and security cooperation initiatives as well. Korea and India signed an agreement on the protection of classified military information. This agreement will lead to further speculation that South Korea and India are sharing intelligence on North Korea and Pakistan, their two respective neighbors that have a history of proliferation with each other. This exchange of information on Pakistan and North Korea was thought to have already taken place after a visit to South Korea from India’s National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon last year. Even if both sides haven’t exchanged information on their neighbors yet, this new agreement and increased security dialogues between South Korea and India make it more likely issues on Pakistan and North Korea will come up in conversation.
With both countries’ economies relying heavily on information technology and facing cyber threats, cyber security will be another area for expanded collaboration between Korea and India. An agreement on cyber security cooperation was signed between the Korea Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center in the Korea Internet and Security Agency and India’s Computer Emergency Response Team in its Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.
Another interesting political aspect between Korea and India is their positions on United Nations Security Council (UNSC) reform. India has pushed for a permanent seat on the UNSC, and often worked with Japan, who is also seeking a permanent seat, toward this goal. The recent Joint Statement said the two leaders “recognized the need for comprehensive UN reforms including Security Council expansion to make the body more representative, accountable and effective.” The statement doesn’t fully give Korea’s support for a permanent seat for India. Moreover, Park Geun-hye said in that same Doordarshan TV interview that she would rather see an “increase the non-permanent membership of the UNSC when reforming the Security Council,” a possible way to avoid having Japan as a permanent member of the UNSC. Look for the differences in the UNSC narrative after Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits as the main guest on India’s Republic Day in a couple of weeks.
The unlikelihood of reaching the $40 billion in trade goal by 2015 is a symbol of the unfulfilled potential of Korea-India relations; however, the likely new target of $100 billion by 2020 demonstrates the aspirations and belief in the possibilities for this strategic partnership. President Park’s first visit to India will likely continue the trend of summit meetings resulting in greater interaction between the two governments in the near future. New initiatives were started and ongoing projects were emphasized. Korea and India have avenues for greater cooperation and room for growth, but finding more areas of cooperation, common visions for the future, and moving through political and economic obstacles will still be necessary for greater ties between South Korea and India.
Nicholas Hamisevicz is the Director of Academic Affairs and Research at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.
Photo from The Prime Minister’s Office (Number 10)’s photo stream on flickr Creative Commons.