A Glimpse into the Indo-Korean Bonhomie: Past to Present

The recent visit of President Moon Jae of South Korea, to India in July, indicates a new era of relationship between the two countries. 11 agreements were signed in the bilateral meet involving various trade, cultural, scientific and technological cooperations.The relationship between the two Asian nations is rooted in history. It dates back to 1st AD when princess Suniratna of Ayodhya undertook a perilous journey on a boat to Korea. She married the Korean King Suro and thus began the Garak Clan. Currently, the descendent of this clan makes up to 17 % of the total population’s economy in Korea, despite a shared history and culture. Millions trace their origin to the Princess of Ayodhya. This narrative, shared history and culture draw tourists from both the countries to explore their roots.The tale of a royal Indo-Korean wedding that brought together the communities in the first place has bloomed to a ‘strategic partnership’ between the two states in the 21st century.

It also interesting to note that parallels can be drawn in the story of the Indian and Korean Peninsula. An episode of partition is common to both India and Korea. Pakistan and India were born in chaos, much like the birth of North Korea and South Korea amidst war. In the contemporary times, both North Korea and Pakistan are warming up to China and have come to a point of dependence.The Indo-Korean relationship did not see a significant growth during the cold war era. However, post the cold war, with a shift in the emergence of a unipolar world, both the states moved towards a systematic development, which helped in building and exploring each other, historically and culturally. The relationship between both the states is built on mutual support and understanding and resulted in the convergence of their interests in the region and internationally.

Modi’s Act East Policy envisages India’s engagement with the Asia-Pacific. It aims to promote economic cooperation, cultural ties and develop a strategic relationship with countries in the Asia-Pacific region and thereby enhance connectivity to the states in the North Eastern region. The policy was an economic initiative in the beginning, but it evolved to have political, strategic and cultural dimensions. The ‘Act East policy’ had enhanced the engagement with Korea to a ‘Special Strategic Partnership’.

The New Southern policy of President Moon that was unveiled during his tour to three the ASEAN countries is in tandem with India’s ‘Act East Policy’. The President put forth his ‘3P’ vision to build a people centred, peace-loving and mutually prosperous community. Principally, the policy aims at boosting ties with India and other ASEAN states. Evidently the focus of both the policies is to strengthen economic engagement, bolster cultural ties and improve strategic relations.

Scholars believe that the Indian engagement with South Korea is on account of China’s greater influence on the Asian countries. And the rationale for South Korea’s impetus for engagement could be the desire to bring about diplomatic diversification.India has been highly technologically dependent on South Korea. Presently five hundred Korean companies have carved a space within India’s economy such as those of Samsung, LG and Hyundai.

President Moon during his visit to India inaugurated a Samsung Electronics facility that is the largest mobile production unit in terms of the number of devices rolled out every month. On the economic front both the states have experienced a growth in relations and there is a visible diligence in policy implementation. The setting up of South Korean companies in India has further integrated the countries economically and politically, concretizing their relationship. This will also contribute in enhancing people to interact.

Not just economically, in the Indo-Korean relations there is an air of positivity in their approach towards the others. The soft power influence by Korea can be seen in the Indian culture as both work with respect to the global architecture. ‘K-Pop’, a musical genre originating from south Korea and characterised by a wide variety of audio-visual elements, is an incredible instrument of Korean soft power and has won the hearts of thousands in India, so is the case with Korean Drama. The young populace in India connects emphatically with the visual stimulus offered by them.

The Indo-Korean bilateral engagement has helped in the growth of both the nations. India being one of the largest importers of Korean products has signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement which led to a reduction in tariffs. Further, it is to be noted that there have been formulation agreements that have over the years increased the importance of India in the Korean Peninsula and vice-versa. Though both the nations are geographically distant, a sense of belongingness and relatability is prevalent.

Reflecting on the history of the engagement between the two states, there is enough room for optimism in ushering Indo-Korean partnership to greater heights. The relation between the two leaders and these bilateral summits can play important roles in strengthening their relations in the near future. In an age with global powers locking horns in trade wars and with unpredictable leaders occupying hot seats of power, the Indo-Korean bonhomie would be mutually beneficial.

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