Source: The Hindu Relevance: GS Paper II- International Relations Context : The significant moment in the course of India-Korea defence relations occurred during General Manoj Pande’s visit to the Republic of Korea in November 2023, marking a crucial development in diplomatic efforts.

India -Korea Relationship:


  • During the Korean War (1950-53), India played a significant role in brokering a cease-fire agreement between the warring sides, North Korea and South Korea, leading to the declaration of a ceasefire on July 27, 1953.

  • In 2015, the bilateral relationship between India and South Korea was elevated to a ‘special strategic partnership’;

  • India assumes a crucial role in South Korea’s Southern Policy, which seeks to expand relations beyond its immediate region.

  • South Korea plays a major role in India’s Act East Policy, indicating the importance of their bilateral cooperation.

  • India’s objectives in the Asia-Pacific region include promoting economic cooperation, fostering cultural ties, and developing strategic relationships with countries, aligning with its broader goals in the region.

Economic Ties:

  • Trade Volume: India and South Korea have witnessed a significant increase in their bilateral trade volume over the years. India-Korea bilateral trade grows 17 % to record USD 27.8 bn in 2022 as both countries actively engage in importing and exporting goods, contributing to a robust economic partnership.

  • Investment Flows: Economic ties extend beyond trade, with mutual investments playing a crucial role. Indian companies have made substantial investments in South Korea, and vice versa, fostering economic growth and job creation in both nations.

  • Technological Collaboration: The economic relationship is characterised by technological collaboration. Joint ventures and partnerships in sectors such as Green Energy, information technology, electronics, and automotive industries exemplify the commitment to innovation and the exchange of expertise.

  • Free Trade Agreement (FTA): India and South Korea signed a comprehensive free trade agreement in 2009, aimed at reducing tariffs and facilitating smoother trade. This FTA has provided a structured framework for economic cooperation, enhancing market access for businesses in both countries.

  • Strategic Alignment in Global Markets: The economic ties between India and South Korea go beyond their respective borders. Both nations strategically align in global markets, supporting each other’s interests on international platforms. This alignment strengthens their economic influence and negotiating power in the global arena.


  • In 2005, a bilateral agreement was signed to foster cooperation in defence and logistics between India and South Korea.

  • A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) outlining collaboration between the Coast Guards of both nations was established in 2006.

  • Five joint exercises have been conducted between the Indian and South Korean Coast Guards, focusing on enhancing interoperability and coordination.

  • The most recent exercise, Sahyog-Hyeoblyeog 2018, took place off the coast of Chennai, reflecting the commitment to strengthening cooperative efforts.

  • There is a proposal for the establishment of a new MoU between the Coast Guards of India and South Korea, aimed at improving maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region.

  • In 2021, the Indian Defence Minister and his South Korean counterpart jointly inaugurated the India-Korea Friendship Park at Delhi Cantonment, commemorating the significant role played by the Indian peacekeeping force during the Korean War (1950-53).


  • Trade Imbalances: Both India and South Korea face challenges related to trade imbalances. For instance, India may experience a trade deficit with South Korea, where the value of its imports exceeds exports, impacting the economic equilibrium.

  • Geopolitical Complexities: The geopolitical landscape poses challenges to the relationship. Regional tensions or conflicts can influence diplomatic and economic ties between the two nations, demanding careful navigation of complex political scenarios.

  • Cultural Differences: Varied cultural nuances can pose challenges in understanding and communication. Misinterpretation or lack of cultural sensitivity may hinder effective collaboration, requiring efforts to bridge cultural gaps.

  • Regulatory Hurdles: Divergent regulatory frameworks in India and South Korea may present obstacles to smooth economic interactions. Harmonising regulations and addressing regulatory barriers is essential for fostering a conducive business environment.

  • Technology Transfer Concerns: Collaborations in technology-intensive sectors may face challenges related to the transfer of technology. Issues like intellectual property rights and technology protection need to be addressed to ensure a fair and mutually beneficial partnership.

  • Global Economic Uncertainties: The impact of global economic uncertainties, such as recessions or financial crises, can affect the economic ties between India and South Korea. Both nations must navigate these uncertainties and adapt to changing economic conditions.

  • Environmental Sustainability: Environmental concerns, such as climate change and resource management, pose shared challenges. Collaborative efforts are required to address these issues, with both nations needing to align their sustainability goals and policies for a greener future.

Evolution of Korean Stance on India:

  • India’s position as the largest consumer of defence products has been a driving force for a shift in Korean stance.

  • Recognizing India as a regional power with the ability to make significant contributions to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific has influenced Korea’s perspective.

  • The existing emphasis by the Indian government on procuring weapons and technology from Korea has, at times, overshadowed broader strategic considerations.

  • The unwavering focus of the Korean defence establishment on profit-driven weapons sales to India has been a contributing factor.

  • However, this focus lacks a strategic dimension, raising concerns about the long-term implications of the defence relationship between India and Korea.

Need To Do :

  • Reassessing India’s Role: Korea should reconsider India’s regional role, moving beyond being the largest consumer of defence products, to cultivate a more profound and meaningful partnership.

  • Collaboration in Defense Technology: Exploring collaboration in advanced defense systems and equipment can establish a mutually beneficial defense technology and industry partnership, fostering innovation and self-reliance for both nations.

  • Navigating Arms Lobbies: Despite powerful arms lobbies in both India and Korea, prioritising long-term strategic goals over short-term gains is essential to overcome potential roadblocks.

  • Partnership for Security Challenges: A significant opportunity exists for collaboration against space warfare, information warfare, and cybersecurity to safeguard critical infrastructure and information.

  • Countering Terrorism through Maritime Security: Collaborative efforts in maritime security, including joint patrolling and information sharing, hold promise, given both countries’ maritime interests in the Indian Ocean, contributing to counter-terrorism measures.

  • Peacekeeping Operations: Sharing insights and resources in peacekeeping operations can enhance regional and global stability, reinforcing their joint commitment to peace and security.

  • Joint Army Exercises for Mutual Growth: Enhancing joint army exercises fosters interoperability and strengthens the capabilities of both armies, enabling effective collaboration in diverse scenarios.

  • Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR): Joint exercises and the exchange of best practices in HADR highlight the shared responsibility of India and Korea in addressing vulnerabilities to natural disasters, promoting welfare and cooperation.

Way Forward:

Transcending Bilateral Cooperation: Moving beyond mere bilateral cooperation is imperative for India and Korea.

  • Embracing a paradigm shift is necessary, fostering a deeper understanding of their roles in the rapidly evolving global scenario.

  • Leveraging Peacekeeping Expertise: India and South Korea can capitalise on their United Nations peacekeeping expertise for collaborative efforts. Sharing insights and resources in peacekeeping operations enhances regional and global stability, emphasising their joint commitment to peace and security.

Joint Exercises and HADR Practices: Demonstrating shared responsibility, joint exercises and the exchange of best practices in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) address vulnerabilities to natural disasters.

  • Mutual growth is achieved through enhanced joint army exercises, fostering interoperability and strengthening capabilities for effective collaboration in diverse scenarios.

Expanded Cooperation Beyond Naval Focus: The Chief of Army Staff’s visit to Seoul extends cooperation beyond naval focus to other branches of India’s armed forces.

  • Navigating challenges and embracing opportunities is crucial for the path forward. 

Strategic, Balanced Approach: A strategic, balanced approach, coupled with adaptability to the evolving geopolitical landscape, is key.

  • Unlocking robust and enduring defence collaboration creates a partnership fostering peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.

Unified Partnership for the Future: United, both nations are ready to navigate complexities and uncertainties, forging a path toward a stronger and more resilient partnership.

  • With Japan and the U.S., the Republic of Korea (ROK) has the potential to be a key piece in India’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

Broader Geopolitical Context: Viewing the prospects of the India-ROK strategic partnership in the broader context of recent geopolitical developments in the East Asian region is essential.

  • ROK, with a new strategic outlook and alongside the U.S., Japan, and Australia, is uniquely positioned to help advance India's interests in the Indo-Pacific.

It is now imperative for India and South Korea to confront challenges, seize opportunities, and adopt a strategic, balanced approach with adaptability to the changing geopolitical landscape. Both nations must move beyond mere bilateral cooperation, embracing a paradigm shift that fosters a deeper understanding of their roles in the rapidly evolving global scenario.

Advait IAS