Indian Decade

A.K. Antony’s Seoul Mission

A.K. Antony is heading to South Korea. With China in mind, India is keen to boost defence ties.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, New Delhi isn’t sitting idly by as China is busy enlarging its strategic footprints around India. Another example of how India’s defence establishment is becoming increasingly China-centric (compared with even the recent past, when it was obsessed with Pakistan) is the visit from tomorrow by Defence Minister A.K. Antony to South Korea—the first time an Indian defence minister has undertaken an official trip to Seoul.

It won’t just be Beijing watching closely—Japan will be too, considering its complicated relationship with South Korea (the Japanese won’t have forgotten, after all, how in 2005 South Korea led the ‘Coffee Club’ of more than 40 countries against the so-called G-4 bid of Japan, India, Germany and Brazil for permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council).

The Defence Ministry is apparently quite excited by Antony’s trip, something underscored by the high-level nature of the delegation, which includes senior civil and military officials such as Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar, Vice Admiral RK Dhowan, Lt General KT Parnaik, scientist Dr. Prahlada and Sundaram Krishna, advisor to the Defence Minister.

Surprisingly, the usually reticent Defence Ministry candidly put on record the purpose of Antony’s South Korea visit, saying: ‘The visit is part of India’s Look East Policy and a wide range of issues including Defense Cooperation for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and bilateral cooperation in Research and Development for manufacture of military equipment will figure prominently during the discussion between Antony and the top leadership of South Korea.’

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The phrase ‘peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region’ should leave no one in doubt that the two sides will be discussing China’s recent moves and its reiteration of maritime territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Apart from meeting his South Korean counterpart Kim Tae-Young (on whose invitation he is going to Seoul), Antony is also likely to meet the country’s president and the prime minister. Antony’s visit follows South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak trip to India in January this year, when the two sides decided to elevate the bilateral relationship to the status of ‘strategic partnership’.

All this said, it’s not as if India and South Korea have discovered each other only recently—there has been an incremental intensification in India-South Korea bilateral ties since 2005, when the two countries embarked on vigorous defence ties when they signed a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in defence, industry and logistics.