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Korea, India agree to deepen defense ties, upgrade trade pact

Top diplomats of Korea, India hold joint commission meeting for 1st time in 6 years

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : March 6, 2024 - 18:00

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South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul (right) and his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, shake hands before the 10th South Korea-India Joint Commission Meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap) South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul (right) and his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, shake hands before the 10th South Korea-India Joint Commission Meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

South Korea and India, in a joint commission convened for the first time since 2018, concurred on further bolstering defense ties, defense industrial cooperation and working toward upgrading their bilateral free trade agreement, according to South Korea's Foreign Ministry.

South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul and Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar held the 10th South Korea-India Joint Commission Meeting on Wednesday at the premises of the Foreign Ministry in Seoul.

The meeting serves as a vital platform for Seoul and New Delhi to engage in discussions encompassing a wide array of bilateral and global issues, with relevant agencies participating, and chaired by foreign ministers. The inaugural joint commission took place in Seoul in April 2002, with the previous and ninth session in New Delhi in December 2018.

During the meeting, Cho and Jaishankar pledged ongoing collaboration to ensure the smooth advancement of the second phase of licensing South Korea's K-9 Howitzer — "a symbol of defense cooperation between the two countries," South Korea's Foreign Ministry said.

India is manufacturing its own variant self-propelled howitzer, the K9 Vajra, incorporating technology transferred from the South Korean major defense contractor Hanwha Aerospace, based on its K9 Thunder platform.

Cho and Jaishankar also concurred on "further developing defense and defense industrial cooperation" and exploring ways to promptly resume a joint vice ministerial level defense and foreign affairs 2+2 dialogue.

The two ministers also committed to advancing negotiations aimed at upgrading their Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, akin to a free trade agreement between the two countries, according to Seoul.

Specifically, Cho called upon Jaishankar to give special attention to fostering a favorable trade environment and easing import restrictions, thereby facilitating the sustained expansion of investments by Koran companies in India.

Cho also called for India's cooperation in promptly establishing the "Korea-India Ministerial Committee on Industrial Cooperation" to deepen future-oriented, cooperative economic relations.

South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul speaks during the 10th South Korea-India Joint Commission Meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap) South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul speaks during the 10th South Korea-India Joint Commission Meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Both ministers, furthermore, committed to enhancing cooperation between Korea and India in core technology fields such as space. They emphasized initiatives like the launch of a trilateral technology dialogue on key emerging technologies among Korea, India and the United States to facilitate the collaboration.

During the meeting, Cho and Jaishankar engaged in discussions regarding Korean Peninsular affairs and the Indo-Pacific region, as well as bilateral cooperation on a global scale.

The two pledged to work toward advancing peace, stability and a rules-based order in the region, based on alignment between South Korea's Indo-Pacific Strategy and India's Vision for Indo-Pacific, according to Seoul.

Jaishankar said via X, formerly known as Twitter, that the discussion covered enhancement of bilateral relations, cooperation in the realms of defense, science and technology, business and trade, people-to-people exchanges and cultural cooperation.

Both sides also exchanged views on developments in the Indo-Pacific region, identified areas of convergence regarding regional challenges and discussed mutual interests in regional and global issues, according to Jaishankar.

Representing South Korea were officials from the Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and Ministry of Science and ICT. On the Indian side, delegates from the Ministry of External Affairs, Defense Ministry, Ministry of Commerce and Industry and Department of Science & Technology participated in the meeting.

In his opening remarks, Jaishankar said the two countries "have become truly important partners for each other."

"And our bilateral exchanges -- trade, investments, defense, and S&T cooperation -- have all seen a steady growth," Jaishankar told Cho.

"While keeping up the momentum in the traditional areas of cooperation, we would be very much interested now in expanding it to new areas, such as critical and emerging technologies, semiconductors, green hydrogen, human resource mobility, nuclear cooperation, supply chain resilience, etc., to make our ties more contemporary."

Jaishankar emphasized that both Korea and India recognized the growing alignment of their viewpoints on global matters.

"Your focus on the Indo-Pacific region is a good case to point, and we both have stakes in its stability, security and prosperity."

Cho emphasized India's crucial role as a key partner for South Korea on the global stage in his opening remark.

Cho also said he couldn't agree more with Jaishankar's remarks that the "India-ROK partnership can emerge as a significant factor in the Indo-Pacific" by broadening their horizons during his speech Tuesday at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy. The ROK refers to South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.

Speaking at the academy, Jaishankar highlighted, "In essence, my case is that the India-ROK partnership is significant but even more so when we look at its impact on the Indo-Pacific."

"Our ties have been described as a Special Strategic Partnership since 2015. This is not just a phrase, but an assessment to which we have tried to live up to since then," he said.

Bilateral relations were upgraded from a strategic partnership to a special strategic partnership in May 2015, coinciding with the state visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to South Korea.