Wane futures in the waters of Indo-Pacific: An India-South Korea story

Talks between premiers of India and South Korea before the Malabar Exercise – 2020 raise concerns for China again as whispers in the corridors tickled “Quad Plus”(a loosely organized coalition of Australia, India, Japan, the United States, and South Korea) initiative from the basket. The proposed agenda has probable contenders like the Republic of Korea, Vietnam, and New Zealand opened a whole new sphere of multilevel co-operation for regional players.

Indo-Pacific is turning towards a grand alliance between the like-minded countries or apparently, we can say a grand alliance to equate the powers of the rising sun of Asia. In the course to achieve the feat, today (21 October) the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi held a telephonic conversation with the President of the Republic of Korea (ROK) Moon Jae-in which smartly hid the planned strategy to broke the international trading chain of China.

In the official release published by the Press Information Bureau of India, mentioned that:

“The two leaders reviewed important global developments including the progress of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing diversification of international value chains, the need to preserve a transparent, development-oriented and rules-based global trading order, and the important role of the World Trade Organisation.”

India is standing in a long queue when referred to the key places in international organizations. It is in favour of India to break the existing structures of these organizations and to expand it till the sphere reaches its door. African countries will be the first benefactors in the reorganization, and for India, the support of secondary powers like ROK matters a lot. ROK provides India an optimal alternative for Chinese tech and exports. China can only be razed in its courtyard by ROK if the markets will lead them to enter through a preferential model of trading. Diversification of international value chains has deep legs in ROK and Japan, in Asia. But the club of early tigers of Asia in the South poses grave danger to the biggies in the region.

India and ROK signed CEPA in 2009 and did a trade of 21.5 billion dollars in the last decade which is comparatively good as compared to China because, in this, India saw a rise in trade deficit by 6.5%. In the case of China, India gained from its earlier figure of $13.1 billion to $5.8 billion in recent quarters of 2020. These stats make it clear what the Indian PM is indicating in his statement. Transparent and rules-based global trading order is a dire need for countries like India, as the defectors and violators of trade rules made by WTO is in our ambit of operations.

China-centred economic globalization in Asia is a twin razor blade for India as it will provide an opportunity to break the hegemony of Westerners in the Indo-Pacific especially in the Indian Ocean rim (IOR) but unfold the red carpet for immediate neighbouring power to grab what we can harness in our high waters. Frankly speaking, it is a roller coaster ride for India to dip in the waters of the Indo-Pacific. It will provide us immediate relief from far powers but cut us out from the trust of regional neighbouring junctures. The post-COVID world is a big opportunity for industrial nations like ROK but on the same line, it is an opportunity for risers like India to club them with runners to save their economies from falling productions in every sector. Not only domestic, even national product indexes are dwindling from the last two quarters of the current financial year.

As two of Asia’s largest economies, the expansion of ties between India and ROK could contribute significantly to regional peace and security. Until now, their relationships with China, a major trading partner for each, has made them more cautious about adopting anti-China rhetoric. But the recent downturn in India-China relations and South Korea’s acceptance and participation in the “Quad Plus” may give both countries diplomatic cover to deepen their bilateral relationship even if that causes greater tensions with China. A stronger and united India-ROK approach towards the PRC would allow both states to develop economic and security models that other Asian nations could follow.

Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with Minister of National Defence of RoK, Mr Jeong Kyeong-Doo

It is not as simple to see from the spectacles of global order shaping from the regional order of Asian waters. The 12 different missile tests by India in the last 45 days, directs the global observers to see something else rather than focusing on mere numbers of artillery India possesses. One must observe the indirect message that the geographical hiatus is not an answer to the assertiveness on borders.

In the end, it is to be noticed that India-ROK relations have an unexplored area of co-operation i.e. defence. It has an infinite space to amalgamate the strategies of both nations. In the coming days of post-Malabar exercise, a joint commitment by two nations will surface and more joint drills will be expected. As ROK expands its horizons beyond the peninsula for greater involvement in the Indo-Pacific region, India has the potential to emerge as a critical democratic partner.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Shashank S. Patel

Shashank S. Patel is a Consultant in the North Eastern Council, Ministry of DoNER, Government of India. He is working on policy matters and attached to the office of Vice-Chairman, NEC in New Delhi. In addition, he writes for The Kootneeti as a Research Analyst for East Asian affairs

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