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2017-11-26 17:09
By Lakhvinder Singh



Damage done to Indian and Korean ties in the last few years is comprehensive and will be difficult to repair in the short term. Trade growth is down from 30 percent to a mere 3 percent. The trade target, which was expected to cross $40 billion a year by 2015, is stuck at $18 billion. The India-Korea comprehensive economic partnership (CEPA), which was supposed be the core tool for strengthening economic ties, is completely dysfunctional and needs immediate updating.

Furthermore, the India-Korea Strategic Partnership, designed to be a comprehensive engagement between these two great Asian nations promoting peace and prosperity in East Asia, has been reduced to merely buying Korean weapons for the Indian armed forces. Nothing could get worse than this. Obviously the India-Korea Strategic Partnership needs immediate attention at the highest level to remain relevant in this fast-changing strategic environment.

Given the pace of change in the region, there are various strategic areas where India and Korea urgently need to work together to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.

The US-led security architecture, which has maintained peace for sixty years, is being challenged by emerging powers in the region. With the US withdrawal from the TPP, Asia as we know it is coming to an end. America’s overwhelming presence once kept various disputes and historical legacies in check, but those have started raising their heads once again. If they remain unchecked this will cause a major upheaval in the coming years. There is an urgent need to build and strengthen conflict resolution mechanisms. India and Korea, two functional democracies believing in the rule of law, can take the lead in building these institutions.

In recent years, China has been rapidly modernizing its armed forces. It is said that China will have a world-class modern military force by 2030. This is causing a major shift in the balance of forces in the region. Without the Indian Ocean in safe and trusted hands, the economic interests and security of trading countries such as Korea and India will be seriously threatened. Safety and security of sea lanes is a matter of urgent concern. It is high time both Korea and India start taking the issue of security of the sea lanes in the post-American order seriously and take the lead in putting the new security system in place to preserve and keep the Indian Ocean open for business for all small and big countries in the region.

Today India and Korea are also facing nuclear threats. A nuclear war on the Korean peninsula or between India and Pakistan will destroy the whole region. Now is the time for both countries to start cooperating and enforcing policies and positions to avoid nuclear war, and constructing peace-building mechanisms. Both can learn from the other about handling rogue nuclear powers next door. It is also time for India to start playing an active role in peace building on the Korean peninsula and for South Korea to do the same in South Asia.

The economic rise of China has created both opportunities and uncertainties. How China uses its newly acquired wealth and power is a matter of concern for all regional countries in Asia. As the recent THAAD controversy demonstrated, China is not hesitating to use its economic power to achieve its political objectives. The democracies of India and South Korea need to join together so they can resist Chinese economic pressure, and thereby counter China with their merged economic and trade policies.

Climate change is another important area where both countries need to work together as it has started affecting their economic growth and the well-being of their populations and security of both countries. Korea has much experience in producing innovative green growth technologies which it should share with India on a priority basis. By working together, both can play a major role in convincing other Asian countries to adopt more environment friendly policies

India and Korea working together will play a leading role in constructing the post-American regional order in Asia. Unfortunately, this partnership with huge potential has been high-jacked by small-time commission agents and defense contractors who are merely focusing on small business and defense deals with little or no long term perspective for the partnership.,

If India and Korea fail to understand the big picture emerging today in the region and adopt appropriate measures, all the gains from the small-time engagements and defense deals will become meaningless and unable to save them from the coming upheaval as a result of the US withdrawal and the rise of China.

With the view of the speed at which this paradigm shift is taking place in the region, strategic imperatives for comprehensive cooperation can only be ignored at our own peril. The leadership of both countries stand warned.


Lakhvinder Singh (parvkaur@hanmail.net) is visiting professor at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies and director of peace program at Asia Institute in Seoul. This article was written on the basis of a recent Korea Times roundtable discussion.


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