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Prime Minister Modi in South Korea

February 22, 2019 | Expert Insights

Prime Minister Modi is visiting Seoul to strengthen India’s strategic ties with South Korea and accept the Seoul Peace Prize conferred upon him. 


South Korea was one of the first countries that sought to increase economic engagement with India after the latter initiated its “Look East” policy in the 1990’s. South Korean investment in India has increased over the past two decades, to an estimated $3 billion.

The South Korean ‘Southern Policy’ converges with India’s ‘Act East Policy’ necessitating the need to strengthen the economic-cooperation and build a prosperous and people-centric community. These policies promote deeper strategic partnerships with countries in the Indo-Pacific region through continuous engagement at the bilateral level. India and South Korea have also deepened their bilateral relations in the defence sector through more military exercises and training.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi was invited by President Moon Jae- In to visit South Korea to strengthen strategic ties and seek to enhance bilateral cooperation in diverse areas, including trade and investment. The Prime Minister described South Korea as an important partner for India’s key initiatives such as ‘Make in India’, and said that -  as fellow democracies, the two countries share values and vision for regional and global peace. 

During the visit, Mr. Modi will have bilateral and business engagements, unveil a bust of Mahatma Gandhi and accept the Seoul Peace Prize conferred upon him. The prize is given in recognition of the contribution to global peace and development. Past recipients of the prize include German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, among others. Calling Modi “the perfect candidate,” the prize committee had said the Indian prime minister was being recognized for “Modinomics,” saying the economic reform program had “reduced social and economic disparity between the rich and the poor” in India.

The spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, Raveesh Kumar said the visit would strengthen India’s special strategic partnership with South Korea and add dynamism to the Look East Policy. PM Modi said his visit is reflective of the importance “we both attach to our relationship”. “We regard the Republic of Korea as a valued friend, a nation with which we have a Special Strategic Partnership. As fellow democracies, India and the ROK have shared values and a shared vision for regional and global peace… As fellow market economies, our needs and strengths are complementary. South Korea is an important partner for our ‘Make in India’ initiative as well as in our ‘Start-Up India’ and ‘Clean India’ initiatives”. 

He said collaboration between the two in the field of science and technology is encouraging, with joint research ranging from basic to advanced sciences. “Our people to people ties and exchanges, as always, provide the bedrock of our ties of friendship, he said. “Working together, we are determined to take our relationship forward as a ‘future-oriented partnership for People, Prosperity and Peace’,” the prime minister said.

“Both India and South Korea are important regional powers and we are certain that President Moon and Prime Minister Modi will exchange notes about the important developments, especially since we share the common Asia Pacific region,” said a South Korean diplomat.

India has extended support to the dialogue process that has brought down tension in the Korean peninsula considerably. “Prime Minister Modi has been a strong supporter of the Korean peace talks,” said the South Korean diplomatic source, appreciating India’s stance.

"We will spur future cooperation. India is home to a world-class pool of ICT professionals and an innovative business ecosystem in addition to basic science and technology. Korea has advanced information and communication technology as well as manufacturing and commercialization capabilities," President Moon said. "If our nations can combine our strengths harmoniously, I believe that we will be able to jointly lead the Fourth Industrial Revolution," Moon wrote, according to the text released by his office Cheong Wa Dae.


More than 20 South Korean non-profits, including human rights groups, had raised strong objections to Modi being awarded the prestigious prize. The activists referred to the 2002 Gujarat riots, saying: "Modi's win is a disgrace to the past laureates of this prestigious award." "We demand (the Seoul Peace Prize Cultural Foundation) retract its decision to give the Seoul Peace Prize to Modi... He deliberately allowed anti-Muslim riots in India that killed more than a 1,000 people in 2002," 


Our assessment is that Seoul and New Delhi share a potential concern - China. Both these countries seek to curb the expanding Chinese power. It also can be noted that India and South Korea invariably found ways to keep the Islamabad – Pyongyang relationship in check. We feel that South Korea is a supporter of Modi administration which is important for the forthcoming Indian elections. The countries have also signed an MOU for the  expansion of Queen Suriratna Memorial.