Finding Seoul in the Indo-Pacific
The recent Camp David summit involving the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea (ROK) holds historical significance as it marks the beginning of a new strategic partnership among these traditional allies.
As India and ROK commemorate the 50th year of their diplomatic relations, this summit, coupled with South Korea’s evolving strategic outlook, presents a valuable opportunity for India to reevaluate its relations with South Korea, especially within the Indo-Pacific context. Alongside the U.S. and Japan, ROK has the potential to become a vital component of India’s Indo-Pacific strategy. However, it’s crucial to analyze the prospects of the India-ROK strategic partnership in the context of recent geopolitical developments in East Asia.
GS – 02 (International Relations, Groupings & Agreements Involving India)
- Location of South Korea
- Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)
- Free Trade Agreements
- FTAs of India with other countries.
- How can India leverage its strategic partnership with South Korea to address shared concerns about China’s rise and reshape the Asian security landscape in the Indo-Pacific region? (150 words)
Dimensions of the Article:
- The Significance of the Camp David Meet
- Opportunities for India and ROK
- Focus Areas for Strengthening the Relationship
The Significance of the Camp David Meet:
- The South Korea-Japan-U.S. trilateral meeting at Camp David signifies a noteworthy development in the region. It represents a significant improvement in Seoul-Tokyo relations, driven by a recognition of the changing regional security dynamics. This trilateral engagement, along with initiatives like AUKUS, the Quad, or CHIP 4 Alliance, has the potential to reinforce a U.S.-led alliance structure, albeit adapted to the multipolar nature of today’s international system.
- Furthermore, the Camp David summit could set South Korea on a new strategic path within the Indo-Pacific. It implies enhanced relations with Tokyo, alignment with the U.S. perspective on China, and increased engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.
- This marks a strategic shift in Seoul’s traditional approach, which avoided offending China at all costs. The current stance suggests that trade dependence on China doesn’t equate to passivity regarding China’s growing military presence in the region.
- Moreover, there’s a growing desire in ROK to join the Quad grouping, reflecting a departure from previous uncertainties about Tokyo’s support due to historical tensions. South Korea might seek Quad Plus membership in the near future.
- President Yoon Suk Yeol’s administration demonstrates a new enthusiasm for foreign policy, aiming to position South Korea as a “global pivotal state.” This vision involves engaging with the U.S. and Japan, supporting Ukraine, addressing the China challenge, and playing a more significant role in the Indo-Pacific.
Opportunities for India and ROK:
This geopolitical backdrop presents a unique opportunity for India and ROK to strengthen their strategic partnership during the 50th year of their diplomatic relationship. Several reasons make ROK a natural partner for India in the Indo-Pacific:
- Shared Concerns: ROK’s Indo-Pacific location, its proximity to China, and its status as a U.S. ally align with India’s strategic interests. Both nations share concerns about China’s rise and its attempts to reshape the Asian security landscape.
- Partnership Potential: With India forging closer ties with the U.S. and growing apprehensions about China, ROK offers a significant regional partner.
Focus Areas for Strengthening the Relationship:
To enhance their partnership, India and ROK can focus on various areas:
- Diplomatic Dialogues: Establish annual summits at the Foreign Ministers’ level and initiate a 2+2 dialogue. Reciprocal visits by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Yoon Suk Yeol could further bolster relations.
- Technology Collaboration: Explore the possibility of negotiating a South Korea-Japan-India-U.S. initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET). This collaboration could parallel the India-U.S. iCET agreement.
- Defense Cooperation: Leverage ROK’s willingness to cater to India’s defense needs under the ‘Make in India’ program. Collaborative projects like the K9 Vajra and K2 Black Panther tanks production could be pursued.
- Nuclear Reactors: Consider cooperation in the realm of Korean-built civilian nuclear reactors. Despite the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal and safeguards agreements, India faces challenges in importing nuclear reactors due to its liability law. ROK’s expertise in supplying nuclear reactors to other nations could be explored, subject to compliance with Indian laws and assurances.
The evolving regional dynamics in East Asia, particularly South Korea’s changing strategic outlook, provide India with a valuable opportunity to strengthen its Indo-Pacific strategy. Collaboration with ROK, alongside traditional partners like the U.S. and Japan, can advance India’s interests in the region. By focusing on diplomatic dialogues, technology collaboration, defense cooperation, and nuclear reactor initiatives, India and ROK can work together to create a more stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific.