Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East diplomacy was in full play during his recent visit to Seoul, South Korea. Though the two countries enjoy warm friendly relations since decades and the South Korean economic engagement with India has become so deep rooted that Korean companies have become household names in India , the two countries have only recently begun to realize the strategic potentials of partnership. This is why during Modi’s visit to Seoul, the two countries decided to upgrade the partnership to Special Strategic Partnership, and together expects to play a very important role in East Asian affairs.
This new level of partnership will help transform the bilateral relations and forge a new cooperative partnership in defence sector, with Korean companies promising to participate in India’s warship production program. The Hyundai has already agreed to discuss the possibilities of making a warship in India. South Koreans are considered a leading ship manufacturer of the world and their participation in India’s warship construction program will greatly boost Indian shipping sector.
South Korean defence industry wants to achieve the status of top ten defence exporter of the world and would definitely like to participate in the modernization program of the Indian armed forces. Indian policy makers have realized that the South Koreans would be a good option for joint collaboration in production of defence equipments, as Korean companies offers high technology at competitive costs.
To give solid foundation to the India-Korea Special Strategic Partnership, the two sides have decided to conduct annual summit meetings, annual Joint Commission meeting chaired by the Foreign ministers , regular consultations between the National Security Council structures of both countries , establish a Vice Ministerial level Defence and foreign affairs dialogue in 2+2 format, encourage greater cooperation between shipyards of the two countries for defence needs, pursue further deepening of defence cooperation through commencement of staff level talks between the two navies and regular exchange of visits between the two armed forces.
Leading Chamber FICCI has described the understanding between India and South Korea as path breaking and welcomed the strategic partnership between the two countries and scaling it to new highs in military diplomacy. This initiative will go a long way in creating joint strategies for developing a stable and secure South East Asia Region from defence and aerospace perspective.
In fact the South Korean defence industries have developed lot of cutting edge technologies , products and systems in cooperation with and facilitated by the governmental agencies. Experts feels that many of them are capable of playing a strategic role in partnering with Indian companies, especially with private sector, towards development of shipbuilding, submarine construction, design and construction of landing crafts, tracked vehicles, mine counter measure vessels, land based artillery rocket systems, thermal imaging systems, propulsion systems for armored vehicles etc.
In fact the ship building capacity of South Korea can eventually become driver of India’s growth under joint collaborative efforts.
Before Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Seoul, the defence minister Manohar Parrikar had visited Korea in April to do the ground work. Mr Parrikar had also then co-chaired the Defence Ministerial meeting in Seoul with the South Korean defence minister. During his visit Parrikar had invited the Korean defence industry to take advantage of Make In India program. During his discussions with Defence Minister Han Min Koo, the two deliberated on ways to expand contact between the defence establishments on both sides and ways to develop deep partnerships between Indian and Korean defence industries.
Parrikar had also met the National Security Advisor of South Korea and discussed ways of intensifying bilateral defence cooperation in security and defence and considered ways to enhance these ties in a manner more commensurate with the close strategic partners. In fact Mr Parrikar had told the Koeran defence authorities that South Korea was his first stop outside the country and he deliberately chose South Korea because of familiarity of Korean industries in India.
Even during the Joint Commission meeting co-chaired by the two Foreign Ministers, when Sushma Swaraj had visited Seoul in December 2014, the two countries had agreed that development cooperation between two countries in the field of defence equipment and technology, as well as sectors like shipbuilding and electronics held considerable opportunities.
Considering its technological prowess, South Korea now aspires to be among the tenth largest defence exporter of the world. Hence South Korea would find India as a very lucrative market. Indian armed forces are now on fast track to modernize and all the defence exporting firms from USA and Israel to Russia and Europe are competing to bag a few slice of these projects.
South Korea would also not like to lag behind in the race to supply defence hardware, platform and electronics systems to Indian armed forces. South Korean defence companies are considered very advanced in missile technology and naval combat systems and Indian armed forces need them in good numbers. The very robust arms industry of South Korea is capable of winning Indian tenders for high tech equipments.
In fact Manohar Parrikar informed the Korean defence minister that within next decade US$ 250 billion worth of defence products would be needed for India armed forces and within one year of the NDA regime in India , the Ministry of Defence has sanctioned projects worth over Rs One Lakh crores to defence manufacturers in India and abroad.
India and South Korea had began exploring the possibilities in defence cooperation almost a decade ago, when the two signed a Memorandum Of Understanding in 2006 for defence cooperation. However the foundation for a strong defence partnership was laid in 2010 when the then Indian defence minister A K Antony had visited Seoul to begin a new chapter of defence cooperation in bilateral relations.
During the visit of South Korean President Park Geun-Hye in January 2014 for talks with the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, both sides had signed an agreement on the protection of classified military information. This boosted the confidence of South Korean defence companies on India and which will take the defence equipment cooperation to a new level.
Till now, the military ties between India and Korea have remained limited to the three Sukanya class offshore patrol vessels which were supplied by Tacoma company in early eighties. The navies of both countries have also indulged in low level maritime exercises. However, South Korea received a jolt last year when India cancelled a one billion dollar deal for supply of eight Mine Counter measure vessels (MCMV), built by Kangnam corporation for the Indian Navy over suspected irregularities. This was the first major decision of the Indian defence minister Manohar Parrikar last year after taking over the Ministry of Defence. Still there is much better scope and bright future for South Korean companies to actively participate in various Indian defence tenders.