By Nicholas Hamisevicz
This week KEI is hosting an event examining India and Korea as increasingly important countries in a rising Asia. Even though much attention has been placed on China this month as some world leaders recently visited Beijing for its military parade celebrating the end of World War II and with Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit to the United States, the focus on countries like Korea and India remind everyone that it is the success of many countries in Asia, not just China, that makes this century an Asia-Pacific one. Korea and India are growing in stature on the regional and global stages, have steadily upgraded their bilateral ties, and have important relations with the United States. Moreover, many of the issues, both old and new, the world will face the next 100 years can be seen in the Korea-India relationship and in the United States’ interaction with both countries.
Economics is a main factor in the rise of Asia and in bringing countries like Korea and India together despite the lack of historical connections, a common threat, or geographic proximity. Both India and Korea are trying to tackle the traditional difficulty of growing their country’s economy so they can continue to develop. In addition, both countries are also striving to avoid traps that would damage their economic influence and growth. Korea is attempting to avoid the stagnation that plagued Japan, and India wants to avoid missing the economic opportunity of an increased population and developing nation.
Korea and India have also engaged in the type of economic diplomacy that has also defined this era of Asia. Both Korea and India have sought out bilateral trade deals, including a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between the two sides themselves. More recently, countries in Asia have attempted to develop broader, multilateral economic arrangements to help maximize the economic gains from this dynamic region. Here is where the role of India and Korea will be vitally important, especially for the United States. Both Korea and India are in the China led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. Each arrangement is still being formed and will not initially include the United States. Korea and India will need to be influential in pushing for high-quality agreements that allow both to benefit the most people and not just individual countries, while also preventing either from becoming anti-U.S. forums.
When examining the security domain, the policies of Korea and India also illustrate some of the traditional concerns combined with newer issues that complicate the Asia-Pacific century. Korea and India have to deal with difficult neighbors in North Korea and Pakistan, respectively. Both of these threats dictate conventional deterrence measures of large militaries, new defense technologies, as well as Korea being a part of the United States nuclear umbrella and India having developed its own nuclear program. Yet Korea and India have also dealt with newer threats of lower level provocations that make it difficult for an immediate conventional military response. These lower level provocations put pressure on the respective Korean and Indian governments as well as on their respective relationship with the United States as a security partner for Korea and as a security player in South Asia for India. These traditional and newer threats have been a large part of the security aspect to date in the Asia-Pacific century.
The future of the Asia-Pacific century will also be defined by the future role of the United States in Asia. The U.S.-Korea alliance and the U.S.-India strategic partnership are important avenues for keeping the U.S. involved in Asia and are important vehicles for demonstrating U.S. leadership in the region as well. In general, both governments in India and Korea want to keep the established U.S. leadership and presence that has helped create opportunities for the emergence of Asia.
However, there is also a desire in each country for a more independent foreign policy. India has a history of a non-aligned foreign policy that can still influence current affairs toward the U.S., and Korea desires a more equal relationship with its alliance partner. Moreover, internal dynamics in each country, combined with uncertainties over the U.S. staying power in Asia and the future direction and forcefulness of China’s foreign policy, have a CNAS report noting that countries in Asia like South Korea and India are “hedging against these uncertainties by deepening engagement with like-minded states to diversify their political, security and economic relationships.” Thus, Korea and India have more options to pursue than just increasing relations with the United States.
KEI has a fascinating lineup of speakers this week that can expertly explore these topics and much more that stem from a conversation about Korea, India, and the United States. The mixture of traditional issues plus newer challenges dominating Asia can be examined through the growing importance of Korea and India along with the U.S.’s relationship to them. Understanding these issues, discussing the policies of these important crucial countries, and creating new ideas in events like KEI’s this week will help make the Asia-Pacific century peaceful and prosperous.
Nicholas Hamisevicz is currently undertaking a PhD in World Politics at Catholic University. Previously he was the Director of Research and Academic Affairs for the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views represented here are his own.
Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.