India – South Korea Relations

India – South Korea Relations


  • India and South Korea are commemorating a significant milestone in their diplomatic relations as they celebrate 50 years of friendship in 2023.
  • The diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in 1973.
  • In 1947, the UN Temporary Commission on Korea was established to hold elections in Korea in 1948 with India as the chairman of the Korean Commission.

India-Korea Relations: A Historical Overview

  • India and South Korea have a long-standing relationship that dates back to the 4th century AD when Buddhism reached Korea from India.
  • The ancient ties between them got momentum during the time of Asoka who patronised Buddhism and sent iron and gold from India to Korea to establish Buddha statues.
  • However, the medieval period and the era of the colonial empire saw a decline of relations between India and Korea.
  • In 1947, the UN Temporary Commission on Korea was established to hold elections in Korea in 1948 with India as the chairman of the Korean Commission.

India-South Korea Economic and Trade Relations:

  • India and South Korea have deepened their economic ties over the years, with trade and investment being the cornerstone of their relationship.
  • The two countries have also signed various agreements to promote investment and trade, including a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
  • The CEPA, signed between India and South Korea in 2009, has played a major role in boosting bilateral trade.
  • The CEPA has eliminated tariffs on over 90 per cent of goods traded between the two countries.
  • It has also simplified customs procedures and facilitated cross-border investment.
  • India’s major exports to South Korea include petroleum products, organic chemicals, iron and steel products, auto components, among others.
  • South Korea’s major exports to India include electrical machinery and equipment, iron and steel products, organic chemicals, plastics, among others.

Defence relations:

  • Defence cooperation has been another important aspect of India, South Korea relations.
  • The two countries have signed agreements for defence cooperation, and ROK has become a significant supplier of defence equipment to India.
  • The two countries have also engaged in joint military exercises and training programmes.
  • In March 2021, India and South Korea decided to take their bilateral defence ties to the ‘next level’ by expanding cooperation in several areas and exploring ‘new domains’.
  • South Korea has been a major supplier of weapons and military equipment to India.
  • The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Defence Cooperation and Defence Research and Development in 2010, as well as the Agreement on the Protection of Classified Military Information in 2014, further strengthened their security collaboration.
  • In 2011, India and South Korea signed a nuclear deal which was a boost for India as South Korea is a market leader in building nuclear reactors.
  • In 1999, during the visit of South Korean prime minister, the path to space cooperation was opened and India, through Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) launched a Korean satellite Unibyol or KITSAT-3 in the geo-stationary orbit.
  • In 2019, the two countries finalised a roadmap for cooperation in joint production of various land and naval systems.

India and South Korea’s Converging Interests:

  • India and South Korea share common interests and concerns in the strategic domain, particularly with regards to an ‘assertive’ China.
  • Both countries have adopted Indo-Pacific strategies, taking into account their proximity to China and the complex nature of their relations with Beijing.
  • This shared concern has created more commonalities between India and South Korea’s Indo-Pacific strategies compared to other countries in the region.
  • India and South Korea share common values such as democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, which form the foundation of their partnership.
  • This shared commitment to liberal values has enabled the two countries to work closely together on a range of issues.
  • India and South Korea have also promoted education exchanges, with a growing number of students from each country studying in the other.


  • While there are so many advances in India- South Korea relations, some impediments hinder a greater collaboration.
  • India recently raised concerns over the trade deficit in the ninth round of the India-Republic of Korea (ROK) Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) up-gradation negotiation held in Seoul in November 2022.
  • The technical barriers in trade including higher import duty, greater involvement of the private sector and the need for more equitable partnership looms over the economic ties.

Deepening Bilateral Engagement: The Way Forward

  • As India and South Korea celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations, it is crucial to capitalise on this milestone and further strengthen their partnership.
  • The two countries should focus on improving the trust quotient between them and enhancing their collaboration on both bilateral and regional issues.
  • In the economic sphere, efforts should be made to address the trade deficit and promote more equitable partnerships.
  • South Korea’s expertise in areas such as IT, space technologies, and manufacturing can align with India’s “Make in India” initiative, attracting more Korean investment and fostering economic growth.

Syllabus: GS II – International Relations