The Koreas

India-South Korea-US Trilateral Technology Cooperation

Recent Features

The Koreas | Diplomacy | East Asia | South Asia

India-South Korea-US Trilateral Technology Cooperation

New developments mark a turning point for the India-South Korea special strategic partnership.

India-South Korea-US Trilateral Technology Cooperation
Credit: Depositphotos

In March 2024, South Korea’s Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul and India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar held their 10th Joint Commission Meeting (JCM) in Seoul, marking the first such gathering in almost six years. A week later, in their trilateral technology dialogue, the United States, South Korea, and India explored possibilities for collaboration in key emerging technology fields such as semiconductors, biotechnology, space, artificial intelligence (AI), and quantum technology. 

Together, these events mark a trajectory toward deeper strategic cooperation between South Korea and India in the Indo-Pacific era. Both countries have now gained significant momentum to bolster their bilateral partnership beyond the confines of their existing special strategic partnership, paving the way for a new chapter that is anticipated to endure for the next five decades and beyond.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a bilateral summit on the occasion of the 2023 G-20 meeting, where they evaluated the ongoing cooperation between the two countries, particularly in advanced manufacturing such as electric vehicles. Acknowledging the growing significance of cooperation in key technological domains among countries that share common values, they agreed to further broaden the scope of supply chain collaboration, especially within emerging sectors such as IT and electronics.

In the current geopolitical environment, the Indo-Pacific region needs minilateral frameworks with like-minded countries for mutual concerns and objectives. The decision to create this trilateral in the technology domain emerged from the inaugural South Korea-U.S. Next Generation Critical and Emerging Technologies Dialogue in Seoul held in December 2023. During a review meeting, recent advances also saw the United States and India broaden the scope of the India-U.S. Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET). Biotechnology, key minerals, processing methods for rare earths, digital connectivity, digital public infrastructure, and innovative materials were among the topics discussed. 

Shared values, including a dedication to democracy and maintaining the rules-based international order, form the basis of the “defining partnership” between the United States and India. The U.S. is committed to supporting India’s rise to prominence as a major global power and considers India an important partner in ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. The involvement of the U.S. and India in the Quad framework shows the wider need for both nations to engage in such minilaterals and trilaterals for the security of the Indo-Pacific region. 

In 2022, South Korea unveiled its new Indo-Pacific policy, making it quite evident that the country wants to become a “Global Pivotal State.” Seoul also aims to work with like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region and contribute to the peace and stability of the region. With South Korea being a key economic tiger in Asia, India is eager to venture into new fields such as critical and emerging technologies, semiconductors, green hydrogen, human resource mobility, nuclear cooperation, and supply chain resilience. 

Similar to India as a fulcrum of the Indo-Pacific rules-based order, South Korea too is cautious about China’s antagonistic response to the Quad. While South Korea is not a member, the four-nation group’s ongoing emphasis on topics like infrastructure development, climate change mitigation, pandemic control, and emerging technologies aligns with Seoul’’s priorities. The U.S., India, and South Korea have converging interests in their Indo-Pacific strategies involving potential avenues of cooperation. 

India contributes to the South Korea-U.S. alliance as a democracy with comparable objectives concerning critical and developing technologies. India’s increasing domestic market, aspirations to become a semiconductor pioneer, and relationship with South Korea as a regional partner with shared democratic and sovereign ideals all play a part in this.

In India, the United States and Korea have teamed up to pursue shared development objectives, a major partnership that was revealed in New Delhi. Their respective international development organizations, USAID and KOICA, have formalized their relationship through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to advance common global development objectives. With the help of this MOU, USAID and KOICA will pool their resources and expertise to address critical issues in India, including women’s economic empowerment, disaster and climate resilience, digital literacy, and opening up opportunities for trilateral cooperation with the Indian government. The alliance wants to promote innovative collaborations, boost local economic trade, and give new digital and entrepreneurial resources to support local livelihoods. 

The new communication mechanism between the U.S., South Korea, and India is among the first diplomatic agreements on technology cooperation signed by New Delhi. India also takes part in the Quad’s collaboration on other technologies, such as 5G and 6G.

The trilateral technology dialogue will have significant economic effects. This alliance can transform the manufacturing landscape and foster employment growth in these nations by acting as a driving force behind improvements in the global technology markets. The combined technological might of India, South Korea, and the United States might encourage the development of innovation hubs, increase exports, and improve investments. 

The tech dialogue might significantly influence the global tech competition. This collaboration could act as a restraint on China’s growing technological hegemony, especially in areas like 5G and artificial intelligence. 

To maintain a balance of power and thwart China’s goals in the Indo-Pacific region, the United States, South Korea, India, and other nations anticipate that AI will be a key component of their defense and security plans. Innovation and data-sharing in the AI space could help these partners offset their growing fears about China’s military might. 

The trilateral cooperation on critical and emerging technologies is a crucial and promising area for improving the bilateral relationship between India and South Korea. However, to strengthen strategic trust and evolve into true strategic partners in the Indo-Pacific, trilateral cooperation is not enough. Both South Korea and India must establish more cooperative platforms in areas of mutual interest going forward. 

For instance, given the significant interest both countries have in the defense industry, there is a pressing need to approach the expansion of cooperation in this field more vigorously. South Korea’s export of K-9 self-propelled howitzers to India and local production there are undoubtedly positive examples. Now is the time to broaden this scope and actively consider cooperation between the two countries on maritime weapon platforms. 

Additionally, in response to growing maritime terrorism, piracy activities, illegal fishing, and other security threats in the Indian Ocean region, it is worthwhile for both countries to not only utilize existing regional multilateral platforms such as IORA and IONS to enhance cooperation on maritime security and maritime domain awareness, but also consider joint bilateral exercises. Such maritime security cooperation is not only vital for India, as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean, but also holds critical benefits for South Korea, which holds a strategic interest in the Indian Ocean as a crucial sea line of communications.

The three nations should further work on fortifying their partnership to protect their interests and maintain the rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific region. A trilateral dialogue between India, the U.S., and South Korea ensures equal stakes and obligations in technology-sharing without the added burden of requiring India to give up some of its traditional policy independence. 

In addition to building a strong international technology infrastructure and investment model to support innovation and the health of the economy, the alliance should seek to work together on the responsible use of AI in surveillance and intelligence sharing to make the most of this trilateral technology dialogue. By establishing common data protection standards, this partnership would also gain from enhancing cybersecurity infrastructure and bolstering supply chain resilience.