Indian - South Korea Relationship- International Relations - Seeker's Thoughts

Recent Posts

Seeker's Thoughts

A blog for the curious and the creative.

Indian - South Korea Relationship- International Relations

India-South Korea Relations is an essential topic for UPSC IAS exams. Both nations play an essential strategic role in shaping Asian power configurations.

South Korea has historically prioritized relations with major regional players such as the U.S., Japan and China; however, with Yoon taking office this may mark a change of approach towards India.

From Ancient Ties to Modern Partnership

Indian-South Korean relations are growing, but more needs to be done. Alongside strengthening economic and defence cooperation, both nations should find commonality through empathy-inducing conversation that fosters openness and curiosity between them. Furthermore, both governments should address cultural prejudices which still plague relations between India and South Korea.

As new power configurations emerge in Asia, Delhi and Seoul should seize this opportunity to use their complementary strengths to maximize investment and foster joint ventures. They should also look towards building flexible middle power coalitions across Asia in order to manage rivalries between US and China and reduce threats between them.

South Korea's Indo-Pacific Strategy and the recently held fifth India-Korea Foreign Policy and Security Dialogue demonstrates how Seoul is realigning its relations with New Delhi, diversifying its economy while becoming an active player in the region. Longer term, India-South Korea relations could benefit both nations by encouraging more equitable global governance practices that reduce marginalisation of Global South nations in multilateral institutions.

India and South Korea: A Special Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century

Economic relations have created a tremendous momentum between the two nations, spurring them on to explore deeper partnerships that will address regional and global issues together.

India and South Korea's partnership is focused on multiple areas including trade, energy, defence, infrastructure and technology. India and South Korea hope to increase cooperation in shipbuilding industries like shipping, electronics and shipbuilding while exploring joint venture opportunities for high-speed railways.

Defense and security between India and Korea have long been linked, with Seoul providing advanced weapon systems like its K9 Vajra artillery for India's Future Ready Combat Vehicles and submarines.

South Korea has sought to diversify its relations with emerging economies in order to protect itself against competition between its largest trading partner, the US, and top strategic ally China. But its unwillingness to endorse or collaborate too closely with Delhi on Quad initiatives - due to lingering anxieties regarding North Korea relations - limits this potential strategy.

How India and South Korea are Deepening Their Cooperation in Trade

India and South Korea must build a robust economic partnership as Asia shifts. India currently ranks 16th for imports to South Korea and 7th in terms of export markets, so both must diversify their markets following China's slowdown while seeking opportunities for cooperation in new areas.

Public health, green growth and digital connectivity should be prioritized as priorities between the two nations. They should work towards closing any informational gaps that create cultural divides; establishment of an Indian Culture Centre in Seoul was an encouraging first step; more efforts need to be put in to broaden and deepen this area of cooperation.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in's New Southern Policy (NSP) seeks to strengthen regional ties between India, ASEAN and South Korea. Both ASEAN and India make excellent partners for Seoul's NSP due to their rapidly rising economies, need for diversifying away from China's influence, and shared interest in building political synergy, deepening economic cooperation while strengthening security ties. In order to maximize its potential both parties should focus on building political synergy while deepening economic, technological cooperation while strengthening security verticals while strengthening security verticals simultaneously.


India has taken steps to diversify its trade and investment partners as a hedge against potential friction between the US and China, with South Korea offering military cooperation aimed at producing weapons jointly as well as increasing defence manufacturing in India with an aim of reaching $50 billion by 2030 in terms of bilateral military trade.

But Seoul has been cautious of openly endorsing the Free and Open Indo-Pacific narrative or Quad, according to some experts. Instead, Seoul regards Indian demands with suspicion; rather than viewing their relationship as a means to limit China's power in the region, Seoul prefers working closely with New Delhi pragmatically rather than endorsing this strategy publicly.

India and South Korea should build upon their increasing bilateral economic and military relations to form flexible middle power coalitions in Asia. This would allow both countries to advance their core interests while contributing to maintaining an equitable regional balance of power. In this context, both should explore expanding cooperation in areas like maritime security and space exploration to link India's Act East Policy with NSP Plus/Quad initiatives.


South Korea and India share many common values and interests, yet have not featured as prominently in Seoul's diplomacy as other powers on the peninsula have. With China and America as its top diplomatic allies, South Korea needs new markets for its export-driven economy - India being one of them.

Seoul has taken steps to upgrade its strategic partnership with ASEAN members and India by elevating them to special status, convening high-level summits, prioritizing presidential visits to these nations, strengthening trade relationships between them, channeling ODA grants towards these nations, among other measures.

Korea has actively invited Indian artists and scholars to collaborate on projects and exhibitions. For instance, in March 2023 the National Museum of Korea invited Indian art experts to help organize an exhibition entitled Masterpieces of Early Buddhist Sculpture from 100 BCE to 700 CE at their museum in Seoul; it marked the first display of Indian Buddhist sculptures in South Korea. Both countries also established Indian Cultural Centres there.

India-South Korea Relations: Historical Background

Delhi and Seoul have found it challenging to forge substantial economic and security ties. A significant component of this problem has been an apparent lack of mutual respect when it comes to cultural values - this may partly be explained by an understanding among Indians that South Koreans cannot distinguish between distinctive Indian characteristics and those shared by other East Asian cultures.

South Korea sees India as an invaluable partner for its export-driven economy, especially amid strained trade ties between USA and China. Both nations share similar perspectives regarding China's rise as an influential regional power.

India's Act East Policy involves strengthening political, security and defence ties with South Korea while expanding economic cooperation - this was made evident with the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in 2010. Furthermore, to attract investments from South Korea India has set up a facilitation centre called "Korea Plus."

Current Status

Under the current global power dynamic, New Delhi and Seoul have the chance to collaborate to strengthen Asian stability. Both nations share interests in moderating power rivalries between China and America as well as strengthening multilateralism while representing Global South interests at international institutions like World Bank, IMF and UN.

India-South Korea relations will benefit greatly from the implementation of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). Investment and trade flows, especially within services industries, should increase, while people-to-people connections strengthen - becoming strategic partners at a crucial time when both economies face effects of a USD 50 billion trade deficit between them.

When the Moon administration passes control to its successor post-2022, its emphasis on India and Southeast Asia will likely remain. South Korean export-driven economy needs new markets for exporting goods; India provides this potential.

Future Prospects

Indian and South Korea, two key US allies, can work together to maintain an equitable regional balance and promote free and open trade across Asia. By capitalising on complementary strengths they both possess to expand business, research and scientific collaborations as well as forge flexible middle power coalitions within Asia to reduce any impact from increased volatility between Washington and Beijing.

India-Republic of Korea Foreign Policy and Security Dialogue and Prime Minister Modi's visit to Seoul in January 2014 signaled an intensification of bilateral strategic ties. President Moon Jae-in's New Southern Policy of engagement with ASEAN and India aligns well with India's Look East/Act East policies.

Both countries should also capitalize on the rising public interest in Korean culture to strengthen cultural ties, reduce discrimination against Indian diaspora in South Korea, and foster stronger bilateral ties in 2023. 2023 can mark a pivotal year in Indo-Pacific security as both nations seek to develop their bilateral partnership and ensure a sustainable Indo-Pacific future.