Emerging Technologies To Bolster India-South Korea Ties

Last week, India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar travelled to South Korea and Japan in a move aimed at further strengthening ties with the two East Asian nations. In South Korea, the EAM focussed on enhancing the bilateral partnership in new areas including emerging technologies, semiconductors and green hydrogen

By Asad Mirza

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The External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar travelled to South Korea from March 5-6 where he co-chaired the 10th India-Republic of Korea Joint Commission Meeting (JCM) with his counterpart Cho Tae-yul.

At the JCM, S Jaishankar expressed India’s desire to expand its strategic partnership with South Korea into new areas such as critical and emerging technologies, semiconductors, and green hydrogen. The JCM covered a wide range of topics, including cooperation in defence, science and technology, trade, people-to-people exchange, and cultural cooperation. The two sides also discussed advancing trilateral cooperation and exchanged views on developments in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as regional and global issues of mutual interest.

Jaishankar also stated that during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2015 visit to South Korea, the two countries’ relations were upgraded to a special strategic partnership. He mentioned that in 2023, the two nations celebrated their diplomatic ties’ 50th anniversary.

Stressing the expansion of cooperation between India and South Korea into new sectors, Jaishankar emphasised that while maintaining momentum in traditional areas of cooperation is important, there is a keen interest in broadening collaboration into new domains to modernise mutual ties.

This statement summarised the new vision, which India has for increasing its bilateral ties with South Korea

India-South Korea Bilateral Trade

The EAM further called for a quick conclusion to the review of India’s trade agreement with South Korea, adding that the two countries must work together to find more ‘meeting points’ and increase their engagement to realise their potential.

Pointing to the long-pending review of CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement) between India and South Korea, the EAM urged for its upgradation to embrace new and emerging sectors, for which he urged to identify more intersections and meeting points that work for both.

The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, or CEPA, between India and South Korea came into force in 2010. However, India has said the pact should be more balanced and equitable. Reports say India wants greater access to the South Korean market for certain goods such as steel, rice, and shrimp while Korea is said to want greater access to India in sectors such as auto components and chemicals.

Negotiations to ‘upgrade’ the CEPA are currently on going, with South Korea’s Ambassador to India Chang Jae-bok saying that the two countries are hopeful of completing the talks in 2024. Officials from India and South Korea had met in January for the 10th round of official negotiations to upgrade the CEPA.

India’s bilateral trade with South Korea grew 9 percent in 2022-23 to $27.88 billion, with India having a significant trade deficit. While India’s exports contracted by 18 percent to $6.65 billion, imports from South Korea jumped 21 percent to $21.23 billion.

In the first nine months of 2023-24, the total bilateral trade stood at $20.92 billion, with India’s exports down 7 percent year-on-year at $4.76 billion and imports from South Korea up 1 percent at $16.16 billion.

Expanding Comprehensive Cooperation

There were fruitful discussions between the two sides on comprehensive cooperation in the fields of defence, science and technology and trade. It is believed that this deal between India and South Korea will cause great tension to N Korea’s Kim Jong Un. In his address at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy Jaishankar also said that trade apart, India and South Korea must recognise the strengths they both brought to the table.

“Today, we are all contemplating the prospect of a re-globalisation that would be very much shaped by emerging technologies. That gives our two nations the opening to progress ourselves while contributing to a better world,” the minister said.

Responding to a question related to India’s production-linked incentive scheme for semiconductor manufacturing, Jaishankar said it is part of increasing domestic capabilities. While this is in India’s interests, Jaishankar said it is also part of de-risking the world economy. He said that both countries have seen increasing similarity of views on international forums. He said, “It is important to focus on the Indo-Pacific region.” The reference here was obviously to India’s increasing role in Quad.

India-S Korea JCM covered a wide range of topics, including cooperation in defence, science and technology, trade, people-to-people exchange, and cultural cooperation

Jaishankar, in this regard, highlighted the Fusion Centre, hosted by India and built as a result of a number of White Shipping agreements with different partners with a common operative picture across the entire Indian Ocean.

“Similarly, RoK’s participation in initiatives like the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, which looks at a range of oceanic issues from ecology and environment to transport and science technology, would, I think, be a very valuable addition,” he said.

India’s top diplomat was referring to the Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR), which is hosted by the Indian Navy and headquartered in Gurugram. It has 25 partner countries, including the US, Japan, Australia, and Bangladesh. Jaishankar also suggested cooperation through the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, both of which are led by India.

Aside from the converging strategic outlooks of both countries – with India’s focus extending eastward toward the Korean Peninsula, and South Korea’s moving westward toward the Indian Ocean – Jaishankar outlined the economic logic for the partnership. Stronger cooperation, he said, is “therefore, impelled by both national interests and global de-risking.”

Cultural Ties

During his visit to Seoul, Indian External Affairs minister also met with Gimhae City Mayor Hong Tae-yong and discussed greater cultural and educational cooperation with Gimhae City. He highlighted the Gimhae-Ayodhya connect as a testament to the shared cultural heritage and longstanding people-to-people relations between the two nations, referring to the legendary story of Queen Heo Hwang-ok (Princess Suriratna) from Ayodhya who married King Kim Suro in Korea some 2,000 years ago.

Overall, given the areas highlighted by the EAM during his visit, it seems that India is trying to revive the previous effort to set up an India-Japan-South Korea trilateral. However, in the current scenario around IOR countries, this trilateral forum, apart from boosting ties between the three nations, will also aim to synergise with the Quad’s focus areas in the region. Ostensibly, defence will be paramount in this effort.

–The writer is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He can be contacted on www.asadmirza.in. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda