Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

India and the Republic of Korea: A Growing Strategic Partnership

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

India and the Republic of Korea: A Growing Strategic Partnership

Article excerpt

India and South Korea (officially, the Republic of Korea) were connected indirectly through Buddhism in the ancient times. In the early twentieth century they shared a common colonial experience of exploitation. Freedom fighters in both countries were aware about each other and provided mutual moral support.1 Gandhi's ideas of Swadeshi and Satyagraha were discussed in the Korean press. The Indian National Congress also passed a resolution on Korea during this period.2

The Korean Peninsula next came in the consciousness of India's policymakers after the surrender of the Japanese at the end of World War II. The US and USSR failed two attempts to arrive at an acceptable formula to establish a unified Korean government, and the US brought the Korea issue before the United Nations in September 1947. The UN set up a Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK) in November 1947 to explore the possibility of elections in Korea and to conduct and supervise them, with Ambassador K.P.S. Menon of India heading it. When the Korea War began, the matter was again brought to the UN Security Council in June 1950. India supported the UN resolutions in which North Korea was named as the aggressor.3 When the UN organized a force under the US leadership to reverse the aggression, India played a cautious role and sent a medical team only. South Korea's Syngman Rhee administration did not like this cautious policy of neutrality by India. After an armistice in the Korea War in July 1953, a Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission was formed to deal with the prisoners of war (PoWs), with India as Chairman, and Indian Custodial Forces exclusively responsible for the release and repatriation of the PoWs. Even Syngman Rhee, South Korea's first President, publicly appreciated the way the Indian forces dealt with quiet competence and deftdiplomacy in the matter.4

Thereafter, India and South Korea became occupied in their respective nation-building and reconstruction processes and a lull in their bilateral relations followed. During the cold war, South Korea was a close ally of the US, while India was a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).5 India tilted towards democratic socialism, while South Korea was averse to all kinds of Leftideologies. North Korea joined NAM in 1975, but India pursued a consistent policy of neutrality in the inter-Korean rivalry. India established Consulatelevel relations in 1962 simultaneously with both North and South Korea, and raised its relationship with both Koreas again simultaneously to the Ambassadorial level in 1973.

Obstructing the growth of India-South Korea relations was also the differing nature of economic models they followed. South Korea, especially since the early 1960s, opted for export-led economic development and was looking for natural resources and markets abroad. The Indian economic organization was based on socialist principles and its rather closed market had little attraction for South Korea. The two countries did sign a bilateral trade agreement in the 1970s, but India had little to offer economically to the export-led South Korean economy.6 Geographic and cultural distance also played a part in keeping the two countries' bilateral relations lukewarm.

After the end of the cold war and collapse of the Soviet Union, India realigned its policy perspectives to converge with US interests in Asia. This has made it easier for both India and South Korea to forge common political and strategic positions on various issues of regional politics.7 Economic liberalization and increasing opening of the Indian market removed the second impediment to their bilateral relations. India-South Korea economic exchanges from the early 1990s have increased quite impressively.8 The increase in understanding and exchanges in the fields of education, culture, tourism and science and technology has also been quite impressive.

East Asia has assumed greater significance for India after it initiated its "Look East" policy in the early 1990s. …

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