In­dia: Cru­cial piece for South Korea’s New South­ern Pol­icy

The Korea Times - - OPINION - By Soura­jit Aiyer Soura­jit Aiyer (soura­ji­[email protected]) is a con­sul­tant with South Asia Fast Track. He is an au­thor and guest-lec­turer, and has worked with both tra­di­tional and sus­tain­able fi­nance or­ga­ni­za­tions. We wel­come your ar­ti­cles for the Thought

Most peo­ple are aware of In­dia’s his­tor­i­cal con­nec­tion with the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN), but not many are aware of In­dia’s his­tory with Korea.

Ac­cord­ing to mythol­ogy, a princess from In­dia’s Ayodhya trav­eled to the Korean Penin­sula, and set­tled there in 48 A.D. as Queen Suri­ratna. Many Ko­re­ans are said to trace their lin­eage to this royal cou­ple.

But that was his­tory! Con­tem­po­rary re­la­tions are driven more by eco­nomics and geopol­i­tics. And eco­nomics and geopol­i­tics of­fer an in­ter­est­ing cock­tail to mix South Korea’s New South­ern Pol­icy with In­dia’s Act East Pol­icy.

To give some back­drop, In­dia launched a Look East Pol­icy in the 1990s, fo­cus­ing on the ASEAN mar­kets for trade, in­vest­ment and peo­ple-con­nec­tions. This was up­graded to the Act East Pol­icy in 2015, when ties ex­panded fur­ther in strate­gic ar­eas. It cat­alyzed con­nec­tiv­ity, in­fra­struc­ture and in­sti­tu­tional de­vel­op­ment, all nec­es­sary for pro­duc­tive ties.

Korea’s New South­ern Pol­icy is also fo­cus­ing on the South­east Asian re­gion to deepen bi­lat­eral ties, but per­haps it is time the Blue House should look at In­dia as the cru­cial piece for the suc­cess of its New South­ern Pol­icy, as In­dia looks at Korea as the cru­cial piece in its Act East Pol­icy. There are a few rea­sons for this:

First, the In­dia-Korea re­la­tion­ship is free from the over­hang of Chi­nese or Ja­pa­nese in­flu­ence. While en­gage­ment with Korea is be­com­ing rel­e­vant for In­dia given its po­ten­tial role in coun­ter­bal­anc­ing China’s grow­ing mil­i­tary clout in the re­gion. More im­por­tantly, given the depth of China or Ja­pan’s in­flu­ence in some ASEAN mar­kets, bi­lat­eral ef­forts with those coun­tries for In­dia or Korea of­ten be­comes en­meshed with the in­flu­ence China or Ja­pan ex­ert on th­ese ASEAN mar­kets.

Both In­dia and Korea have kept them­selves largely mul­ti­po­lar, mak­ing each other free from such Chi­nese or Ja­pa­nese in­flu­ence. That au­gurs well for sus­tain­ing a sta­ble po­lit­i­cal and diplo­matic agenda.

Sec­ond, their eco­nomic ties can ex­pand ex­po­nen­tially with the global sourc­ing model. That would ex­pand mar­ket ac­cess, im­prove their com­pet­i­tive­ness, re­duce costs and help trade and in­vest­ment move north.

Korea’s prow­ess in man­u­fac­tur­ing and In­dia’s lo­ca­tion sur­rounded by fast-grow­ing con­sumer mar­kets of South Asia of­fers an ideal com­bi­na­tion to in­vest into global sourc­ing fa­cil­i­ties for Korean busi­nesses in In­dia. This is hap­pen­ing al­ready, as seen by the $4 bil­lion in­vest­ments made by LG, Hyundai and Sam­sung in In­dia. But there re­mains am­ple head­room for growth, to sup­ply to the South Asian re­gion.

In­dia’s trade with Korea at $20 bil­lion is sim­i­lar to that with Singapore or In­done­sia, but the com­ple­men­tar­i­ties of­fered in those re­la­tion­ships are less. A re­newed fo­cus on global sourc­ing fa­cil­i­ties can help In­dia-Korea eco­nomic ties and bring more re­sults for the New South­ern Pol­icy.

Ef­forts like the Korea Plus ini­tia­tive in In­dia or a fo­cus on In­dia in the Korean trade min­istry’s New Trade Or­der Strat­egy are in the right di­rec­tion. Food pro­cess­ing, au­to­mo­biles, tex­tiles, elec­tron­ics and tele­com equip­ment of­fer tremen­dous scope to sup­ply to third coun­tries. As it is, In­dia and Korea are ex­plor­ing tri­par­tite de­vel­op­ment work in third coun­tries.

Next, Korea an­nounced in 2017 to up­grade the In­dia-Korea re­la­tion­ship to the level of its tra­di­tional part­ners un­der the New Asia Com­mu­nity-Plus. The re­cently con­cluded Strate­gic Eco­nomic Di­a­logue, and the soon-to-be-held 2+2 con­sul­ta­tion ex­er­cise of their for­eign and de­fense min­istries, would take bi­lat­eral ties fur­ther into strate­gic ar­eas.

It is im­per­a­tive to lever­age this mo­men­tum and win div­i­dends by deep­en­ing the fo­cus of the New South­ern Pol­icy on In­dia. That would help Korea re­duce its overde­pen­dence on the U.S. or China for eco­nomics. For In­dia, con­nect­ing its East Pol­icy with the New South­ern Pol­icy would give it depth in terms of its Indo-Pa­cific se­cu­rity strat­egy.

Last, re­search of­fers an un­par­al­leled av­enue for co­op­er­a­tion. The plans for the Korea-In­dia Fu­ture Strat­egy Group and Korea-In­dia Cen­tre for Re­search and In­no­va­tion Co­op­er­a­tion bode well to build the in­sti­tu­tions for co­op­er­a­tion in re­search and in­no­va­tion. Re­cent bi­lat­eral agree­ments be­tween the two na­tions in­clude ar­eas such as biotech­nol­ogy, science and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy.

In­dia’s flag­ship pro­grams like Make in In­dia and Smart Cities will con­tinue to of­fer a huge op­por­tu­nity for R&D, en­abling in­no­va­tion and re­search to take this re­la­tion­ship to the next level.

How­ever, noth­ing can hap­pen with­out deeper peo­ple-to-peo­ple con­nec­tions. In­dia’s strong re­la­tion­ships with the U.S., the U.K. or Ja­pan are, in part, a re­sult of the depth of the peo­ple-con­nec­tions.

With neigh­bor­hoods like Songdo and In­cheon hous­ing sev­eral in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions, there is an op­por­tu­nity to bring in more In­dian ex­pats into Korea, that brings nat­u­ral gains to peo­ple-con­nec­tions. While sev­eral In­dian stu­dents are pur­su­ing higher stud­ies in Korea, this should be a pri­or­ity-sec­tor in the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship.

Closer cul­tural con­nect with trans­lated film or tele­vi­sion con­tent can also pro­mote aware­ness, as would boost­ing air con­nec­tiv­ity and as­sis­tance for tourists.

At the end, not only is In­dia look­ing at Korea, even In­dian states like Ma­ha­rash­tra and Te­lan­gana are so­lic­it­ing Korean busi­nesses. With the 2+2 di­a­logue cre­at­ing fur­ther strate­gic mileage to the bi­lat­eral ties, it may be time Korea puts dis­pro­por­tion­ate em­pha­sis on In­dia in its New South­ern Pol­icy. That would be a win-win for both na­tions.

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