India and South Korea look to boost military ties

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (right) with South Korean President Moon Jae-in shake hands prior to a meeting at Hyderabad house in New Delhi, India, on July 10, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI - India and South Korea on Tuesday (July 10) agreed to boost defence ties through more military exercises and training as part of efforts to expand their relationship beyond economic partnership.

This came during the visit of South Korean President Moon Jae-in to India.

The two countries already conduct joint military exercises but are looking at ways to boost defence cooperation. Besides holding more joint exercises, New Delhi is looking to attract South Korean defence companies to invest in India.

"ROK (Republic of Korea) and India will enhance military exchanges, training and experience-sharing, and research and development, including innovative technologies for mutual benefit,'' said a statement issued after talks between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr Moon.

"We also agreed to encourage our defence industries to intensify cooperation,'' it added.

South Korea is also looking to expand ties with India, apart from Asean countries, as part of a New Southern Policy formulated last year following a diplomatic row with China.

That row was triggered after the United States deployed a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) anti-missile system in South Korea that led to retaliatory measures from China, which saw the system as a threat to its security.

India too has been worried by the growth of China and has been seeking to deepen its engagement with countries to its east through the Act East Policy.

Mr Moon, whose visit to India and later to Singapare is seen as the launch of the New Southern Policy, said it was "the right time to substantially lift the partnership to the next level'', and that India's Act East policy fits into South Korea's New Southern Policy.

He was speaking at a joint press briefing with Mr Modi, who also referred to the ongoing efforts to denuclearise the Korean peninsula and the recent summit between North Korea and the US.

"I told him proliferation between the north-east of Asia and South Asia is a matter of concern. India too is a stakeholder in the success of the peace process. We will offer all possible cooperation to reduce tensions,'' said Mr Modi.

Mr Moon is understood to have told the Indian leaders that he was confident of the outcome of the summit but said there would be "bumps and bruises on the road.''

India and South Korea have developed their ties through regular high-level exchanges, with economic cooperation as the backbone of the relations.

Bilateral trade is at US$16.82 billion (S$22.8 billion) in 2016-17 and has gone up and down in recent years. Still, many Korean companies from Samsung to LG and Hyundai have successfully tapped into the growing Indian market. There are 500 Korean companies in India.

On Tuesday, the two countries signed 11 agreements, such as the setting up of a Future Strategy Group for joint development of cutting edge technology and a cultural exchange programme. They also discussed an upgraded Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

Analysts said the two countries still have some distance to go, including in pushing economic and defence ties.

"Leader-to-leader ties are very good and there is a lot of political goodwill. But the core of special strategic partnership is still the economic partnership. A second wave of Korean investments after the first wave in the 90s hasn't happened yet. Even though Korean companies want to shift from China, they are going to Vietnam and Indonesia,'' said former Indian diplomat Skand Ranjan Tayal.

"India's expectation is that South Korea will come in a big way in defence construction equipment... but that is yet to happen.''

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