Public Diplomacy Public Diplomacy

President Park Gyun-hye’s forthcoming State Visit to India

January 10, 2014

By Ambassador (Retd.) Skand Tayal*

The first lady President of the Republic of Korea, HE Park Gyun-hye is visiting India on 15 – 18 January 2013 at the invitation of President Pranab Mukherjee.

The visit would be a major landmark in the rapidly deepening bilateral relationship between the 3rd and 4th largest economies of Asia. The visit of President Park in the very first year of her 5 year term is a forceful iteration of her administration’s commitment to the strong ties forged with India by her predecessor President Lee Myung – bak.

India had acknowledged the importance of India – ROK relations by inviting former President Lee Myung – bak as the Chief Guest at the 61st Republic Day celebrations in January 2010. During the visit the bilateral relationship was raised to the level of "Strategic Partnership” from the "Long Term Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity” declared at the time of President Rho Mou-hyun’s state visit to India in 2004. President Rho was from the liberal side and Presidents Lee and Park are from the conservative party. It is reassuring to note that in both the countries there is complete bipartisan support to a strong friendship between India and ROK. President Lee Myung inspecting the Guard of Honour at Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi in January, 2010

Over the years, India and ROK relations have passed through several distinct phases. The 1950s were a period of estrangement between democratic India and authoritarian South Korea. 1960s and 70s also witnessed only a limited engagement as ROK continued to be authoritarian. In the 1980s, ROK’s remarkable economic progress caught the attention of Indian leadership. Once ROK embraced real democracy in the late 1980s the bilateral relations grew rapidly.

The visit of Prime Minster P.V. Narasimha Rao to ROK in 1993 paved the way for the entry of Korean Chaebols into India. Over time Korean companies like Samsung, LG and Hyundai Motors have become household names in India. Prime Minster P.V. Narasimha Rao visited Republic of Korea in 1993

The economic exchanges have grown rapidly between the two market economies. India – ROK trade crossed $20 billion in the year 2011. In fact, India – ROK trade is more than India – Japan trade. The two countries declared their intention to fashion a close economic engagement by forging a Comprehensive Economic Partnership in 2010.

Relations in the field of defence are also
growing rapidly. Following Prime Minister Manmoohan Singh’s March 2012 official visit to Seoul, a Defence Wing has been opened in the Indian Embassy in Seoul. During the visit of Defence Minister A.K.Antony’s visit to Seoul in 2010 a Defense Cooperation Agreement had been signed. For the first time a contract for purchase of five minesweepers from ROK is under active consideration of Indian army. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh received by President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul in March, 2012.

In our times, people to people relations are a critical element of any bilateral partnership. In recent years both the countries have opened cultural centers in each other’s capital. Hindi is taught in two Universities in Seoul and Pusan. India has flourishing departments of Korean Studies in Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University.

There is strong will on both sides to deepen the existing strategic as well as economic partnership and the forthcoming Presidential visit would be an opportunity to chart a clear road map for the coming years.

The declaration of "Strategic Partnership” needs to be given more content. Already there is a regular Foreign Policy and Strategic Dialogue at the Vice Minister/Secretary Level. It would be useful for the National Security Advisors of the two countries to interact regularly. As the security scenario in North – East Asia is a cause of some anxiety because of recent Chinese moves; this is a subject to be discussed at the highest levels. India would also be interested in seeing some easing in the present rather cold relations between ROK and Japan – both being India’s strategic partners in East Asia.

The bilateral trade has shown a slight decline recently. This is a cause for worry. President Park is likely to take up the long – delayed POSCO project for early approvals. This proposed $12 billion investment for a 12 million tonne steel plant is Odisha has been mired in environmental and land acquisition issues. President Park would also be keen on presenting the capacity of Korean companies in civil nuclear energy to the Indian sde. It may be recalled that a Civil Nuclear Cooperation agreement was signed between the two countries in July 2011 during the visit of the then President Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil.

On our part, we need to reiterate ISRO’s interest in launching Korean satellites on our own launch vehicles. Entry of Indian IT companies into ROK’s software and IT enabled services market also needs to be pushed energetically. ROK needs to be more open to allow approvals for Indian generic drugs for the Korean market. Long delays by Korean FDA to Indian agricultural products like mangoes and vegetables has been a longstanding complaint of India, which has not yet been addressed by the Korean authorities.

The widening trade gap between India and ROK is a cause of worry for India. It needs to be impressed upon the visiting dignitary that ROK must be as open to products and services from India, as India has been to Korean white goods, automobiles and equipment.

Korea also needs to enter India’s burgeoning infrastructure sector as an investor. Korean companies like DOOSAN in power, Hyundai Rotem in urban transport and Samsung C&E for construction are already active in the Indian market. They need to upgrade their relationship with India from a seller – buyer relationship to a long term investor. Korean investment in India’s infrastructure sector needs to be pushed and encouraged.

Happily, there are no significant bilateral issues between India and ROK. Both the countries are vibrant democracies with open economies. They share a worldview to ensure peace and tranquility in East Asia. Both the countries are working together to foster a peaceful international environment conducive to economic growth. The forthcoming visit of the new ROK President would be an opportunity for her to appreciate India’s immense economic and strategic potential. President Park’s discussions with the Indian leadership would be an occasion to reaffirm the commitment of the two countries to continually deepen this close friendship.

(*Ambassador (Retd.) Skand Tayal was India’s former Ambassador to the Republic of Korea. He has recently authored a book titled "India and Republic of Korea: Engaged Democracies”. He is currently a visiting professor at Delhi University and can be reached at


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