A Half-Century of Diplomatic Ties between India and South Korea: Charting a Course for the Future

March 27, 2024 Aanchal Sinha


Apart from Southeast Asia, India is another fixture of South Korea's New Southern Policy (NSP). Yet though India has been described as a "core pillar" of South Korea's foreign policy, Seoul has struggled to create momentum in the partnership in recent years.i Though it has yet to reach its full potential, India and South Korea's relationship is by no means small. India views South Korea as an "indispensable partner" in its Act East Policy, and bilateral ties have expanded across all domains since diplomatic relations were established in 1973.ii Over the past fifty years, the diplomatic relationship between India and South Korea has evolved significantly, marked by dynamic shifts in regional and global contexts. This paper explores the historical journey of their bilateral ties, examining key milestones and challenges encountered along the way. Moreover, it analyses the present status of their relationship, considering the nuanced perspectives of both nations amidst evolving regional dynamics. Through this exploration, the paper sheds light on India-South Korea relations and offers insights into charting a course for their future collaboration and cooperation.

Historical Ties and Modern Alliances: India and South Korea's Enduring Connection

After the end of the cold war and collapse of the Soviet Union, India realigned its policy perspectives to converge with US interests in Asia. This has made it easier for both India and South Korea to forge common political and strategic positions on various issues of regional politics.iii India and South Korea (officially, the Republic of Korea) were connected indirectly through Buddhism in the ancient times. In the early twentieth century they shared a common colonial experience of exploitation. Freedom fighters in both countries were aware of each other and provided mutual moral support. Gandhi’s ideas of Swadeshi and Satyagraha were discussed in the Korean press. The Indian National Congress also passed a resolution on Korea during this period. Following Korea's independence in 1945, India played a crucial and constructive role in Korean affairs. Mr. K. P. S. Menon, an Indian, chaired the 9-member UN Commission established in 1947 to oversee elections in Korea.iv During the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, both conflicting sides accepted a resolution proposed by India, leading to a ceasefire declaration on July 27, 1953.After the armistice, Lt. General K. S. Thimayya of India served as the chairman of the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (NNRC) and played a significant role in addressing humanitarian issues stemming from the war.v His efforts received appreciation from various quarters. For over a decade, India has been actively involved in building relationships with its East Asian neighbours, with varying degrees of success. In the early 1990s, India shifted away from its Cold War policies of non-alignment and economic self-sufficiency and embraced the "Look East" policy, focusing on engagement with the wider Asian region. Initially, this effort was concentrated on Southeast Asia and, more recently, extended to Northeast Asia. Since the initiation of India's "Look East" policy in the early 1990s, East Asia, particularly South Korea, has gained significant importance. While the initial phase of this policy mainly focused on ASEAN countries, India also acknowledged the importance of South Korea. In 1993, Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao's visit to South Korea marked a significant milestone, being the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to the country. President Kim Young-Sam reciprocated with a visit to India in 1996, leading to the establishment of a Joint Commission at the Foreign Ministers' level.

The second phase of India's "Look East" policy, which began in the early 2000s, exhibited a more concentrated focus on South Korea and the broader East Asian region. Six years after the decision to establish a Joint Commission with South Korea, the first meeting occurred in Seoul in April 2002 when External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh visited the city. President Roh Moo-Hyun’s visit to India in 2004 led to both countries agreeing on a "Long Term Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity."vi They also established a joint study group to explore the possibilities of a free trade agreement (FTA).Over time, RoK's open-market policies found synergy with India's economic liberalisation and its "Look East Policy" and, later, "Act East Policy." India's consistent support for the peaceful reunification of the two Koreas has been well-received in RoK. India and South Korea share a common goal of transforming seas and oceans into a basis for collaboration, rather than conflict and competition. India's relationship with the Republic of Korea (RoK) has made significant progress in recent years, evolving into a multifaceted partnership driven by a substantial alignment of interests, mutual goodwill, and high-level exchanges. Indian policymakers recognize that South Korean cooperation and support have enabled India to take on a more active role in East Asian regional politics. In both Southeast Asia and East Asia, India's inclusion is deemed crucial to counterbalance China's dominance. As a result, India has been invited to participate in various initiatives aimed at building networks in the region, spanning economic and security domains. India has become a member of important groups like the Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA) process, the East Asia Summit (EAS), and the ASEAN Defence Ministers Plus Meetings (ADMM+). Furthermore, there is a potential for India to receive an invitation to join APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) in the future.

Historical connections between the two countries also contribute to their strong relationship. According to the "Samguk Yusa," written in the 13th century, a princess from Ayodhya, Suriratna, married King Kim-Suro in the year 48 AD, becoming Queen Hwang-ok. Several prominent figures in RoK, including former President Lee Myung-bak, former President Kim Dae-jung, former President Kim Young-Sam, and former PM Kim Jong-pil, trace their ancestry to this royal couple. Additionally, the Korean Buddhist Monk Hyecho visited India from 723 to 729 AD and documented his journey in the travelogue "Pilgrimage to the Five Kingdoms of India," which offers a vivid account of Indian culture, politics, and society. This travelogue was rediscovered in China in 1908 and has been translated into various languages, including Hindi, under the auspices of UNESCO. The original fragment is currently held by the National Library of France. Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore also composed a poignant poem, "Lamp of the East," in 1929, celebrating Korea's illustrious past and its promising future. Changes in the international system since the end of the Cold War, especially China’s enhanced role within Asia, have led to the gradual breakdown of the strategic separation between South Asia and Northeast Asia. One of the starkest reminders of the potential for increased interaction between the regions, and of China’s central role in it, was provided by the deepening relationship between Pakistan and North Korea during the 1990s. It had a major strategic impact on both the Indian Subcontinent and the Korean Peninsula.vii It has been argued that China sees India’s “Look East” policy and Japan’s more recent policy of engagement with India as being a part of a wider containment strategy developed by the U.S., Japan, and India. As a result, China saw benefit in further tying India and Japan into sub-regional conflicts. According to Mohan Malik: China has played a double game in South Asia and Northeast Asia, having earlier contributed to their destabilisation by transferring nuclear and missile technology to its allies (North Korea and Pakistan) and later offering to help contain the problem of nuclear/missile proliferation in South Asia and on the Korean peninsula.viii Such tactics have buttressed the point that China’s “centrality” regional security issues must be recognized as essential to their resolution. Such a strategy not only obviates the need for China to pose a direct threat to Japan or India, but also allows Beijing to wield its prestige as a disinterested, responsible global nuclear power while playing the role of an impartial, regional arbiter.ix ”If this analysis is correct, the Chinese strategy of using North Korea as a proxy to create nuclear tension in Northeast Asia would not only threaten Japan but would also have a disproportionate impact on South Korea. The possible development of a nuclear proliferation relationship between North Korea and Burma, another Chinese ally adjacent to South Asia, would also be of major concern to India.x

In September 2007, the Bush administration made a renewed proposal for an Asia-Pacific regional “democratic club” including India and South Korea. South Korea hosted the first meeting of senior officials for this association in October 2008.xi Whether this initiative is given substance or goes the way of previous proposals of this type remains to be seen. The potential for security cooperation between South Korea and India on the Korean Peninsula is more doubtful. It is arguable that India has a definite interest in seeing the development of a strong and unified Korea sitting on China’s eastern flank. Some observers have called India “a legitimate dialogue partner in any future settlement with North Korea,” and the South Korean the government has requested that India use its “special status” with the two Koreas to support its position in the Six-Party Talks.xii India could conceivably play an honest broker role between South Korea and North Korea as it did during the Korean War. However, it seems that New Delhi has no evident desire to become involved in Northeast Asian security issues, whether on the Korean Peninsula or in the Taiwan Strait.xiii In reality, India has little leverage over North Korea, and China would likely strenuously object to any Indian role in the region.xivAfter the demise of the USSR after the end of the Cold War, India’s closeness with the Soviet Union ended and its commitment to non-alignment was diluted. In the last three decades, India has consistently moved closer to the US. South Korea is a security ally of the US and growing proximity between India and the US helped both India and South Korea to see that their strategic interests have many commonalities. India and South Korea both find common concern in ‘assertive’ tendencies in the rise of China and have a similar goal of a rule-based institutionalised, multipolar and stable Asia. Furthermore, in the 1990s, when it was reported that Pakistan and North Korea were exchanging nuclear and missile technologies, India and South Korea realised that they also share a common security challenge: nuclear-armed and hostile neighbours. India and South Korea both have been troubled by their respective neighbours, Pakistan and North Korea, and if these two countries were conducting exchanges of defence technologies, it made sense for both India and South Korea also to explore closer coordination in the security and strategic domains.xv Despite various factors pushing for closer ties and mutual synergies between India and South Korea, the advancement of their bilateral relations remains sluggish due to several domestic factors. One significant factor is the primary focus of each country on their challenging neighbouring regions, especially concerning major powers. Both countries struggle with limited foreign policy human resourcesxvi
and are bound to focus these on areas critical to their national interests. For example, after coming to power in May 2017, Moon Jae-in sent one of his special envoys, Chung Dongchea, to India,xvii sending a clear signal of the importance of the country to South Korea. He also announced his New Southern Policy (NSP), which in addition to Southeast Asia, targeted India for outreach.xviii

Trade Ties and Strategic Balancing: India and South Korea's Economic Relations

In January 2005, the first Foreign Policy and Security Dialogue at the Head of Division level took place. In 2006, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam visited Seoul, strengthening the relationship. To further enhance their complementary core competencies and boost economic cooperation, India and South Korea signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in 2009.xix Notably, this was India's first FTA with an OECD country. The CEPA became effective on January 1, 2010, and in the two years following its implementation, bilateral trade between the two countries grew by 70 percent. Developments in the political and strategic dimensions of the relationship between India and South Korea over the past several years also point to a more comprehensive relationship—a trend underlined by the declaration of a “strategic partnership” in January 2010. Despite being "Special Strategic Partners," the substance of the India-South Korea partnership remains somewhat limited. While India's Act East Policy (AEP) and South Korea's New Southern Policy (NSP) are theoretically complementary, their practical achievements have been underwhelming. Therefore, a comprehensive evaluation of the India-South Korea relationship should acknowledge both accomplishments and challenges. In June 2016, an initiative called 'Korea Plus' was introduced,xx following Prime Minister Modi's proposal, to encourage and facilitate Korean investments in India. Additionally, a Korea-India SME and Startup centre was inaugurated in September 2019.xxi

Key exports from India to Korea include mineral fuels and oil distillates, particularly naphtha, as well as cereals, iron, and steel. In contrast, Korea's primary exports to India comprise automobile parts, telecommunication equipment, hot rolled iron products, petroleum refined products, base lubricating oils, mechanical appliances, electrical machinery and parts, and iron and steel products. South Korea is poised to be an important partner in various Indian initiatives such as Make in India, Skill India, Digital India, Start-up India and Smart Cities. Both countries have also been working to upgrade CEPA and enhance targets to raise their bilateral trade to US$50 billion by 2030.xxii At the regional level, both nations have committed to collaborating on issues such as ensuring freedom of navigation, overflight rights, and combating terrorism, extremism, and radicalism.xxiii India has expressed its approval of South Korea's constructive diplomatic efforts aimed at denuclearizing North Korea. In turn, South Korea has reaffirmed India's membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Lately, South Korea's Trade Minister engaged in discussions with India's Minister of Commerce & Industry, Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, and Textiles. Major Korean investors in India have included LG, Samsung, Hyundai, and Daewoo, primarily in the automotive and consumer electronics sectors. In contrast with many foreign investors who were mostly interested only in establishing manufacturing operations to service the Indian domestic market, the South Korean chaebols were often interested in establishing their own version of the Japanese “flying geese” strategy by integrating Indian manufacturing into their Asian and world-wide operations.xxiv

The bilateral relationship between India and South Korea has evolved rapidly over the past decade. Trade between both countries has consistently expanded. In 2022, bilateral trade grew by 17.3 percent to US$27.8 billion.xxv On 2 November 2019, South Korea and the US released a ‘joint fact sheet’ in which both the countries announced that they would cooperate in three overarching categories: prosperity (energy, infrastructure, development loans and digital economy), people (good governance and civic society) and peace (cooperation in waste management in the Mekong region and responding to climate change for island nations in the Pacific Ocean).xxvi South Korea announced that it would work with the US to build ‘a safe, prosperous, and dynamic future for the Indo-Pacific region through cooperation based on the principles of openness, inclusiveness, transparency, respect for international norms and ASEAN centrality’. It's evident from the policy decisions of both India and South Korea that they have been seeking a neutral position in the contest between the United States and China. The launch of India's Act East Policy (AEP) and South Korea's New Southern Policy (NSP) is not coincidental; it signifies their shared positions and aspirations, independently arrived at. While both countries are included in each other's AEP and NSP, they would need to further articulate their joint stance on this 'third way.' In India and South Korea's 'third way,' the role of ASEAN countries is as significant as their own roles. India and South Korea would prefer to have a two-pronged strategy for the region. The first priority of both the countries could be to articulate a ‘third way’ through their AEP and NSP. However, they are aware that this option might not be easily realised given the intensity of the contest between the US and China. In such a scenario, both countries would possibly go for the second option: becoming active partners of the US in the Indo-Pacific strategy to defend their interests.xxvii
Recently, India aims to broaden its strategic collaboration with South Korea, venturing into fresh domains such as critical and emerging technologies, semiconductors, and green hydrogen to modernize bilateral relations, highlighted External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during the 10th India-South Korea Joint Commission Meeting (JCM), which he co-chaired with his counterpart Cho Tae-yul on 6th March 2024.xxviii

India-South Korea Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific: Shaping Global Governance

In recent years, the term "Global South," encompassing countries across Africa, Central and Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean, has gained significant geopolitical relevance. India's increasing strategic and diplomatic influence has been a driving force behind repositioning the emerging and developing world as a symbol of power. One of the most salient drivers of this reclamation of the so-called emerging and developing world as a symbolic power has been India’s rising strategic and diplomatic prominence. In 2023, particularly, hosting the twin presidencies of the Group of Twenty (G20) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), India as a developing country and leading voice has brought the concerns of the Global South centre-stage. This renewed push for expanding ties with the South was seen in the Group of Seven (G7) summit (hosted by Japan) in 2023, too, which at the same time also reignited the terminological debate by skirting the term altogether—instead using a combination of “emerging/developing” partners or countries in its communique. Undoubtedly, India’s “special strategic partner” South Korea—a vital member of the G20 and an invited participant at the 2023 G7—has contributed significantly over the years to the Global South through its evolving official development assistance (ODA). However, it has been conspicuous by its absence over any official commentary on the Global South—unlike Japan that has since January 2023 been espousing the need to share governance responsibilities with the South as a partner. South Korea’s Yoon Suk-Yeol government declared in December 2022 its “Strategy for a Free, Peaceful, and Prosperous Indo-Pacific Region”, in which South Korea (ROK) would play a global pivotal state role. The document is basically the ROK’s de facto flagship diplomatic manifesto, adding a “prosperity” component to the U.S. drive for a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”

Undoubtedly, South Korea has shifted from the “structural ambiguity” of the previous Moon Jae-in administration to “strategic clarity” by aligning clearly with the U.S. democratic value system and the U.S. initiated Indo-Pacific construct in navigating the increasingly intensifying U.S.-China rivalry. Over the period 2019-2022, ROK’s cumulative bilateral trade with India and ROK’s cumulative outbound FDI to India recorded $88.9 billion and $1.8 billion, respectively, whereas ROK’s corresponding figures with Vietnam registered $297.7 billion and 12.9 billion, respectively. India has actively shifted its focus to bring the South and its concerns to the forefront by aligning with like-minded partners, a stance notably demonstrated during its 2023 G20 presidency. South Korea plays a crucial role in this global objective, even if it hasn't officially endorsed the term "Global South." South Korea's policy commitment to fostering global development for a prosperous global community reflects an inclusive vision. Its aspiration to become a "global pivotal state" further supports these developmental goals. Together, South Korea and India can collaboratively contribute to shaping a fairer global governance system. Their joint efforts can bridge differences, advocate for the interests of the Global South, and push for reforms, especially within multilateral forums, to make these platforms more equitable and democratic. In South Korea's pursuit of becoming a global pivotal state in the emerging Indo-Pacific landscape, India has emerged as a crucial strategic partner. Both nations share strong security ties with the United States and common democratic values, enabling them to collaborate on sustainable development through various minilateral and multilateral frameworks. While South Korea's goal of becoming a global pivotal state is ambitious, it must move beyond mere rhetoric to build a long-term domestic constituency that supports the South Korea-India bilateral relationship. South Korea's absence from key minilateral groups has raised questions about its actual influence in global affairs. Yoon's steps have brought South Korea closer to Western liberal democracies, but this alignment comes with potential risks. South Korea's geopolitical focus remains heavily on North Korea's nuclear threat, diverting attention from other Indo-Pacific issues. South Korea's alignment with the Strategy for a Free, Peaceful, and Prosperous Indo-Pacific, along with its aspiration to become a global pivotal state, presents fresh opportunities for productive collaboration with India. By translating their complementarities into operational synergies, they can deepen their natural convergence. Beyond bilateral relations, South Korea's role within the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) Plus framework is noteworthy, especially in diversifying supply chains to aid global growth, leveraging its diplomatic acumen, economic strength, and technological advancements. South Korea can contribute to international problem-solving and bridge the gap between developed and developing nations. At the core of South Korea's journey towards becoming a global pivotal state lies the collective power of "Korea Inc." This includes leveraging its global economic influence, technological innovation, and extensive supply chain networks to align with the "Quad Plus" objectives of fostering stability, resilience, and sustainable development in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. India and South Korea should work together to create synergies between the Indo-Pacific strategy, the Act East Policy, and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, utilising existing ASEAN-led multilateral and other regional cooperation platforms.

Four potential areas of cooperation include institutionalising the India-ASEAN-ROK trilateral dialogue platform, enhancing maritime cooperation, fostering connectivity, and strengthening economic and technology cooperation. This trilateral cooperation between Korea, ASEAN, and India can effectively address emerging regional and global challenges through flexible, inclusive, and issue-driven multilateral collaboration. While the strategic relationship between India and South Korea remains somewhat limited, there is growing importance placed on Seoul as an equal partner with shared values, vision, and ambitions. To enhance their bilateral ties in the Indo-Pacific, India and South Korea should focus on building political synergy, deepening economic and technological cooperation, strengthening the security dimension, and exploring a global connection. Defence diplomacy and defence industry collaboration are also critical areas of convergence. Joint research, production, and export in the defence industry, including cyber, space, and intelligence-sharing domains, will strengthen defence capabilities. This partnership is beneficial for South Korea to reduce dependence on Chinese manufacturing and for India to establish a credible defence industry. To achieve greater strategic convergence, both partners should proactively engage in new-era collaborations focused on critical technologies related to defence and security. This collaborative approach will drive progress in their defence and security endeavours. While Seoul actively participates in ASEAN-led forums, it is yet reluctant in becoming a part of important regional minilateralism like the Quad, AUKUS, FOIP, or even coalition building. These groupings have gained attention for their potential to counter Beijing’s assertiveness in the region, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, which Seoul has failed to bank upon. Although Seoul’s aspiration to attain “global pivotal state” status is legit, its absence from these minilaterals is a fulcrum to its pivot carrying significant implications. All of this is set to ameliorate, through ROK’s embrace of the marquee Strategy for a Free, Peaceful and Prosperous Indo-Pacific (SFPPIP), that marks an inflection-point of sorts, in the annals of the nation’s strategic orientation and statecraft in the extant, notwithstanding the seminal hue of its precursor ‘New Southern Policy’ (NSP), of predecessor President Moon Jae-in.

Forging a Trilateral Path: India, South Korea, and Japan for Regional Stability in the Indo-Pacific

The geographical scope and partners of our Indo-Pacific Strategy span the coast of the Indian Ocean and Africa,” the strategy said. “Expanding our diplomatic horizon beyond the Korean Peninsula and northeast Asia, we will deepen strategic cooperation with key regions in the Indo-Pacific, including southeast Asia, south Asia, Oceania, and the African coast of the Indian Ocean, and develop a network of strategic partnerships tailored to each region,” it elaborated India, Japan, and South Korea, being democracies, not only share common values but also demonstrate converging interests in the region. This trilateral collaboration primarily aims to establish a "balance of power" framework within the Asia-Pacific region, potentially institutionalising structural arrangements. This approach helps address uncertainties stemming from regional issues such as Chinese assertiveness and perceived U.S. decline. While the United States maintains a significant naval presence in the Asia-Pacific, there is a growing belief among experts that the U.S. is becoming more hesitant in making strong commitments to its regional allies. As a result, these allies face an increasingly serious dilemma. Consequently, cooperation among middle powers emerges as a potentially essential strategy to counter Chinese assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific and offers an alternative to U.S. rebalancing efforts in the region. In the rapidly changing landscape of the Indo-Pacific, Japan, India, and South Korea must take on more prominent roles in economic, political, and defence engagements. Their growing economic prosperity and deep integration into the region have made them more susceptible to external disruptions. This evolving situation necessitates close cooperation among these three countries to uphold the rule of law, maintain order, and ensure lasting peace and stability, all of which are becoming increasingly challenging in the face of global uncertainties. To address these complexities, it's imperative that these nations strengthen their economic and security bonds and develop a unified Indo-Pacific framework. This framework should be equipped to deal with intricate challenges, including fluctuations in exchange rates, energy prices, and the formulation of strategies to mitigate the impact of such economic shocks. Moreover, they should collaborate on crafting regional and global responses to issues like climate change and other environmental threats.

Trilateral cooperation is vital to sustain economic growth in the region and maintain their competitiveness on the global stage. As these three nations take on more proactive roles, their significance in maintaining international peace and security within the region will grow. They should also work together to develop a collective approach to address transnational crime and terrorism by enhancing intelligence sharing and cooperating on law enforcement strategies. India and South Korea face a significant challenge in managing their individual relationships with Japan. Notably, Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has raised concerns in South Korea, while India remains less troubled by Japan's evolving positions. India views Japan's assertiveness as a crucial counterbalance to China's regional dominance ambitions. Conversely, South Korea is uneasy about Japan's remilitarization. Japan is anticipated to leverage the new OSA (Official Security Assistance ) to enhance its comprehensive defence framework and foster closer security collaboration with nations that share similar objectives. This endeavour aims to play a role in upholding and fortifying international peace and security. Given the growing geopolitical tensions in the Indo-Pacific region, Japan should ideally align its OSA initiatives in the area and promote increased cooperation between India and South Korea.


In conclusion, the historical path of India and South Korea's bilateral relationship has evolved from a shared colonial experience to constructive collaboration in international affairs. Despite initial challenges and strategic disconnection, both nations have gradually strengthened their ties, moving beyond economic cooperation to establish a political and security relationship reflective of their common interests. Despite the shared concerns and commonalities in strategic interests, the advancement of bilateral relations between India and South Korea faces challenges. Domestic factors, including limited foreign policy resources and a primary focus on challenging neighbouring regions, contribute to the sluggish progress. While both nations recognize the importance of closer ties, their attention remains divided due to regional dynamics and major power considerations. Looking ahead, India and South Korea recognize the imperative of maintaining a nuanced position amid the contrasting narratives of an 'assertive' China and the counter-alliance system proposed by the United States. The region's preference for a 'third way' underscores the importance of avoiding disruptions in the regional order, crucial for India's sustained economic growth and South Korea's reliance on external trade. While South Korea's goal of becoming a global pivotal state is ambitious, it must move beyond mere rhetoric to build a long-term domestic constituency that supports the South Korea-India bilateral relationship.

South Korea's absence from key minilateral groups has raised questions about its actual influence in global affairs. Yoon's steps have brought South Korea closer to Western liberal democracies, but this alignment comes with potential risks. While challenges exist, such as South Korea's focus on North Korea's nuclear threat and its absence from certain minilateral groups, the alignment with the Indo-Pacific strategy opens opportunities for meaningful collaboration. the Indo-Pacific region faces a multitude of challenges that demand collaborative efforts from Japan, India, and South Korea. Through increased cooperation and coordination, countries can safeguard the region's security, prosperity, and stability, even in the face of global shocks and uncertainties. To promote middle power diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific, India, Japan, and South Korea should align their interests and capabilities for coordinated foreign policy. Proactive and pragmatic cooperation is essential to safeguard their national interests and not become overly influenced by U.S.-China strategic competition. Their collective comparative advantages can be used to develop new sustainable initiatives, either through standalone trilateral cooperation or participation in existing minilateral or multilateral forums like AUKUS, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), and the Quad.




He-Suk, Choi. “Korea and India Agree to Strengthen Ties - the Korea Herald.” The Korea Herald, July 10, 2018. https://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20180710000827.

ii Ibid.

iii George J. Gi lboy and Eric Hegnibotham, 20 1 2, Chinese and Indian Strategic Behavior:

Growing Power and Alarm, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 276

iv Government of India. “India – Republic of Korea Bilateral Relations,” n.d. https://www.mea.gov.in/Portal/ForeignRelation/Bilateral_Brief_Jan_2020.pdf.

v Banka, Neha. “70 Years of the Korean War: India’s Lesser-known Role in Halting It.” The Indian Express, July 1, 2020. https://indianexpress.com/article/research/70-years-of-korean-war-indias-lesser-known-role-in-halting-it-6476030/.

vi Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. “Joint Statement, State Visit to India of H.E. Mr. Roh Moo-Hyun, President of the Republic of Korea (ROK), 4-6 October 2004,” n.d. https://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/7467/Joint+Statement+State+Visit+to+India+of+HE+Mr+Roh+MooHyun+President+of+the+Republic+of+Korea+ROK+46+October+2004.

vii For detailed discussions of this relationship, see Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark,

Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy (London: Atlantic

Books, 2007); and International Institute of Strategic Studies, Nuclear Black Markets: Pakistan,

A. Q. Khan, and the Rise of Proliferation Networks, at <http://www.iiss.org/publications/strategicdossiers/nbm/nuclear-black-market-dossier-a-net-assesment/>

viii Malik, Mohan. “India Balances China.” Asian Politics & Policy 4, no. 3 (July 1, 2012): 345–76. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1943-0787.2012.01360.x.


ix Ibid.

x For a discussion of the arms supply relationship between North Korea and Burma, including

the possible supply of nuclear technology by North Korea in 2003, see Andrew Selth, “Burma and

North Korea: Smoke or Fire?” Australian Strategic Policy Institute Policy Analysis, no. 47


xi “The Bush Administration and Changing Geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific Region on JSTOR.”Www.Jstor.Org, n.d. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25798532.

xii Kim Il-young and Lakhvinder Singh, “The North Korean Nuclear Program and External

Connections,” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis 26:1 (Spring 2004), p. 98

xiii Zhao Gancheng, “India: Look East Policy and Role in Asian Security Architecture,” position

paper at the SIIS (Shanghai Institute of International Studies)-Brookings Conference on Regionalism

in Asia, December 11–12, 2006

xiv Slavney, Natalia. “India’s Ties to North Korea: Can New Delhi Overcome Challenges to Its Maturing Engagement? - 38 North: Informed Analysis of North Korea.” 38 North, October 5, 2020. https://www.38north.org/2020/09/jpanda093020/.

xv “The Colonial Origins of Territorial Disputes in South Asia on JSTOR.” Www.Jstor.Org, n.d. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26664123.

xvi Kanti Bajpai and Byron Chong, “India's Foreign Policy Capacity, Policy Design and Practice, Policy Design

and Practice, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2019, pp. 137-162.

xvii “Special Envoy of the President of the Republic of Korea Calls on PM,” n.d. https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1508735.

xviii Hoang, Ha Thi, and Glenn Ong. “Assessing the ROK’s New Southern Policy Towards ASEAN.” ResearchGate, January 30, 2020. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/370496646_Assessing_the_ROK's_New_Southern_Policy_towards_ASEAN.

xix “CEPA | Embassy of India, Seoul,” n.d. https://www.indembassyseoul.gov.in/cepa.



xx Invest India. “KOREA PLUS – ‘The Gateway for Korean Investors in India’...,” n.d. https://www.investindia.gov.in/team-india-blogs/korea-plus-gateway-korean-investors-india.

xxi “India - RoK Bilateral Relations | Embassy of India, Seoul,” n.d. https://www.indembassyseoul.gov.in/india-rok-bilateral-relations.

xxiii Botto, Kathryn. “Why Is South Korea Strengthening Ties With India and Southeast Asia?” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 30, 2021. https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/09/30/why-is-south-korea-strengthening-ties-with-india-and-southeast-asia-pub-85469.

xxiv The “Flying Geese” strategy involved an international division of labour in East Asia in which

Japan organised capital and labour-intensive manufacturing in and among lesser-developed second

and third tier countries.

xxv Press Trust of India and Business Standard. “Indo-Korea Bilateral Trade Grows 17% to Record $27.8 Bn in 2022: Kotra.” Www.Business-Standard.Com, April 26, 2023. https://www.business-standard.com/india-news/indo-korea-bilateral-trade-grows-17-to-record-27-8-bn-in-2022-kotra-123042600901_1.html.

xxvi Ibid.

xxvii Mishra, Sandip Kumar, G. Balatchandirane, and Rityusha Mani Tiwary. “Contemporary Concerns and Challenges in East Asia: A View From India.” China Report 57, no. 3 (August 1, 2021): 346–63. https://doi.org/10.1177/00094455211023910.

xxviii Pti. “Jaishankar Bats for Expanding India’S Strategic Partnership With South Korea in Critical Technologies, Semiconductors.” The Indian Express, March 6, 2024. https://indianexpress.com/article/world/jaishankar-india-strategic-partnership-south-korea-technology-semiconductor-9199335/.



About the Author:

Aanchal Sinha is currently working as a Research Intern at Indic Researchers Forum. She is pursuing her Master's in East Asian Studies from Delhi University.


The research article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of Indic Researchers Forum.

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