India and South Korea yesterday agreed to boost defence ties through more military exercises and training as part of efforts to expand their relationship beyond an economic partnership.
This came during South Korean President Moon Jae-in's visit 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 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr Moon in a statement that was issued after talks between the two leaders.
"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 after a diplomatic row with China. That row was triggered after the United States deployed a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence anti-missile system in South Korea, leading 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 subsequent trip to Singapore are seen as a move to launch 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 with South Korea's New Southern Policy.
He was speaking at a joint press briefing with Mr Modi, who also spoke of ongoing efforts to denuclearise the Korean peninsula and the recent summit between North Korea and the US.
Mr Modi said: "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."
Mr Moon is understood to have told the Indian leaders he was confident about the summit's outcome, but that there would be "bumps and bruises on the road".
India and South Korea have developed ties through regular high-level exchanges, with economic cooperation the backbone of their relations.
Bilateral trade stands at US$16.82 billion (S$22.8 billion) in 2016-2017 and there have been ups and downs in recent years. Still, many Korean companies from Samsung to LG and Hyundai have successfully tapped the growing Indian market. There are 500 Korean companies in India.
Yesterday, both countries signed 11 agreements, including one for the setting up of a future strategy group to jointly develop cutting-edge technology and another for 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 economic ties.
"Leader-to-leader ties are very good and there is a lot of political goodwill. But the core of the special strategic partnership is still the economic partnership. A second wave of Korean investments after the first wave in the 1990s 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."