Indian Decade

Singh Goes to Seoul

As Manmohan Singh prepares to visit South Korea, it’s worth asking why India hasn’t pursued stronger ties.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be embarking on a four-day visit to South Korea beginning March 24.

India has had a strategic partnership in place with South Korea since 2010. Oddly enough, the last time an Indian prime minister visited Seoul was back in 1993, when Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao made the journey.

Singh’s Seoul visit should be seen in two parts – first an official visit (March 24-25) that will include delegation-level talks with President Lee Myung-bak, which will be followed by the Nuclear Security Summit (March 26-27).

From Seoul’s point of view, one of the main points of bilateral concern, apart from the tangle over South Korean steel giant POSCO, which has been embroiled in a dispute over building a captive port in India, will be reaching an agreement on civil nuclear cooperation. India wants to conclude a nuclear agreement as early as possible with a nation with which it has strong bilateral trade relations – Seoul and New Delhi have set an “achievable” bilateral trade target of $30 billion by the end of 2014.

But there’s an interesting question surrounding all this: why hasn’t India pursued a stronger relationship with South Korea?

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Many would point to the dynamics of India-China relations. India may have been seeking to stabilize its rocky relations with Beijing. But now that China has started flexing its diplomatic and military muscles not only in its own backyard, but also in nations close to India, New Delhi may be willing to explore its diplomatic and economic options. South Korea and other nations may stand to gain if India reaches out for more strategic partners in the future.