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India’s Look East Policy has Korea Seriously Looking Back

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

I t is rare thing to see – two countries growing to complement each other so completely that it seems as if the whole situation was engineered from behind the scenes. On the one hand you have South Korea, which is a high-end shipbuilding, construction, and electronics exporter. And on the other hand, you have India, which is a rapidly-growing economy across a few thousand miles of sea with a 350 million-strong middle class who have a long list of high-end electronics they want to buy and new housing they want to see built.

India’s Look East policy has led them to engage East Asia steadily for the past ten years, but now their extremely promising market dynamics are catching Korea’s eye too.

Everyone knows that Korea’s current lover is the United States. Sure, Korea and China are close, but the US saved Korea in their hour of need and then provided them a perfect market for their growth as a manufacturer and exporter. But all is not well in the house of America, which is experiencing a shrinking middle class, job market, economy, and just about everything else. Now is the perfect time for Korea to take some time off and re-think its priorities and relationships as it graduates from industrialization high school and moves on to globalization university. Now is the time for Korea to consider serious, long-term commitments closer to home and more culturally similar. India makes an extremely compelling case for Korea’s next long-term economic relationship. India is ready and willing to pick up just as many goods and services as Korea is ready to put down, and the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between the two countries is only helping matters. Besides, the two are really more compatible than any other two countries may be. Where India has software manpower, Korea has hardware manpower. Where India has two oceans and an extensive need for more ships to sail them, Korea has shipyards. Where Korea has a rapidly-aging population, India is a young country, with 300 million children under the age of 15. That is the entire population of the United States that will be needing new cell phones, televisions, computers, and trendy fashions for at least the next 15 years. There is just no reason for either country to refuse the other.

And it is not just trendy consumer electronics that Korea can offer India either. India is also hungry for nuclear power and other, alternative sources of energy that they can use to provide more basic infrastructure throughout their sprawling nation. South Korean companies have spent a lot of time and effort to become experts in nuclear energy, and the Indian government is taking full advantage of that.

Also, it makes sense from a defense perspective. India and South Korea are both democratic nations, interested in preserving the well-being and freedoms of their people. However, not all their neighbors have the same priorities. China in particular is offering additional tensions in the region with Ambassador of India, Vishnu Prakash, with Mr Kim Sung-Hwan, RoK Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. expansionist overtures towards all the resources they can find. While they do not show any signs of actual conquest, the Chinese government des aggressively pursue disputed oil-rich regions of the South China Sea. What the Chinese government thinks that it can or cannot do will depend on the attitudes and cooperative possibilities of its regional neighbors. Nobody except North Korea is interested in destabilizing the region, and the best way to preserve stability is for like-minded neighbors and trading partners to present a unified front in all international arenas. That is why South Korea and India are going to be working more closely on defense in the near future.

Now, granted, all is not perfect between the two countries. There are still some issues that need to be addressed. For instance, South Korea has a constant national push to learn English as a second language, and yet their governmental policies only recognize citizens of the US, England, and a handful of other countries as native English speakers qualified to teach. India has a long history of education and English-language fluency, but qualified Indian English instructors are not yet welcomed in the South Korean bureaucratic system. This is something that India hopes will soon be addressed. Also, businessmen on both sides have been reported as complaining that the CEPA between the two countries favors the other side more in their respective business sectors, although the specific reports are sometimes contradictory and unsubstantiated. This may actually be a sign of a truly fair compromise, for as the saying goes, a compromise is a situation in which nobody is truly satisfied. But in the IndiaKorea relationship, it seems as though more stakeholders can be closer to satisfied than in many other similar agreements. The relationship is good for both countries, and it can only grow.

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