By Saroj Mohanty, New Delhi, Jan 14 IANS | 11 months ago

India and South Korea will seek to add more depth to their strategic partnership, with expanded economic ties and cooperation in defence industries, space technology and nuclear energy during President Park Geun-hye's four-day visit beginning Wednesday.

South Korea's first woman president, during her meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, will focus on cooperation in science, information and communication technology and greater trade and investment, beside collaboration in security and foreign affairs.

The talks are also expected to cover in depth the latest developments in the Korean Peninsula and other regions.

Park is on a "sales diplomacy" that complements her domestic economic plan focussed on building a "creative" economy and creating more opportunities for Korean manufacturers as an appreciating Won is affecting exports.

The "creative" economy envisages fostering new technologies, promoting entrepreneurship, greater participation of women in Asia's fourth largest economy.

Earlier this month, she unveiled a three-year plan to raise potential growth rate of the export-dependent economy through restructuring and fostering innovation. Data published last month showed a year-on-year rise in export - which accounts for over half of the GDP - of just 0.2 percent.

Cheong Wa Dae, the Blue House or president's office, in a statement said Korea sees India with its huge domestic market a partner in implementing the economic plan and the visit "will help attain the goal of reaching $30,000 in gross GDP per capita." Officials said Korea and India would discuss upgrading their Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and would look at having joint ventures and industrial parks.

After the CEPA took effect in January 2010, two-way trade grew nearly 70 percent in the first two years. According to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA), Korean firms' investment in India has rapidly grown over the past five years.

South Korea now wants to get zero-tariff access into India's market for auto and steel, among other goods, while India has asked for greater market access for its products, especially in information technology, generic medicine and textiles to correct the trade imbalance.

Trade between the two nations is around $25 billion, but the common goal is to reach $40 billion by 2015.

Last week, the two sides discussed a road map for future economic cooperation, especially in the SMEs sector. Finance Minister P Chidambaram in talks with Korean Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Strategy and Finance Hyun Oh Seok said South Korean companies should take advantage of the investment opportunities in India's infrastructure sector.

India needs $1 trillion in investment in infrastructure and manufacturing.

Notably, Park's visit comes just weeks after the Indian cabinet approved a free-trade agreement on services and investment with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that will lead to talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Park recently announced plans to raise government funding for science research and development. She flagged plans to create a new satellite launcher and brought forward a deadline for a moon rover launch to 2020 from 2025.

India is willing to partner with South Korea's space programme and has offered to launch its satellites on Indian space launch vehicles.

"We signed a memorandum of understanding with the Korean government to cooperate in space. I am sure that one thing will lead to another," said Ambassador Vishnu Prakash, ahead of the visit.

Though the foundation of India-Korea relations is economic, security and defence engagements have emerged in recent months as a major component of the partnership. India's "Look East" policy now reflects a strengthening of defence and security cooperation with countries in Southeast and East Asia which, diplomatic observers say, is making its foreign policy more robust.

Last month, the two countries held a dialogue to boost security ties and cooperation in the defence industry. A.K. Bishnoi, additional secretary in the defence ministry, exchanged views on regional security and explored ways to expand defence cooperation with South Korean Deputy Defence Minister Ryu Je-seung.

The meeting took place after the defence ministries of the two countries agreed to hold high-level security consultations regularly to further expand cooperation as the year marked the 40th anniversary of bilateral relations.

Also last month, during the Seoul Aerospace and Defence Exhibition in which the Defence Research and Development Organisation displayed a wide range of indigenous weapons, officials and businessmen explored ways to conduct joint research and development and production opportunities in the sector.

At their third Foreign Policy and Security Dialogue (FPSD) last September, India and South Korea discussed collaboration in defence production and the potential for space and nuclear cooperation.

South Korea is eager to enter India's energy market, selling nuclear reactors. In 2011, the two countries had signed a nuclear deal.

South Korea is aiming at a global strategic footprint, building on its economic heft. It has been a major donor of foreign aid and is promoting the Korean model of growth in parts of Africa. It is also the first Asian country to host the Nuclear Security Summit.

And success of the "Gangnam style" has helped the country gain more prominence in popular culture and become a soft power. Korean films have begun to garner a share in the world entertainment market, including India's Northeast.

Park will be in India just 10 days before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives as chief guest for India's Republic Day celebrations at a time when a tense East Asia is increasingly looking towards New Delhi in view of Chinese muscle-flexing.

Her trip follows the visits of Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera and Vietnam's Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong during which strengthening of defence cooperation, including those related to maritime security, were discussed.

India and South Korea have agreed to step up cooperation in the spheres of maritime and cyber security. India is in favour of a multilateral security architecture in the region and stands for freedom of navigation in international waters and application of global conventions.

Analysts say South Korea could help India build a strategic hedge in Northeast Asia.

South Korea last month expanded its air defence zone to include two territorial islands and a submerged rock that partially overlap with a similar zone declared unilaterally by China.

National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon was in Seoul last July and had discussed intelligence-sharing on proliferation activities by North Korea and Pakistan.

(Saroj Mohanty can be contacted at saroj.m@ians.in)

(Posted on 14-01-2014)

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