Korea, India aim to strengthen ties

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Korea, India aim to strengthen ties


Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak, second from right in front row, and first lady Kim Yoon-ok, third from right, attend a welcome ceremony yesterday at the presidential palace in New Delhi. India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, far left, and President Pratibha Patil, far right, greeted the Korean couple. [YONHAP]

South Korea and India are expected to cement a strategic partnership that aims to more than double trade and upgrade their economy-focused relationship into a comprehensive bond covering political, diplomatic, security and cultural affairs, Blue House sources said yesterday.

President Lee Myung-bak and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were scheduled to participate in a summit in New Delhi yesterday to discuss a series of measures to upgrade their bilateral ties. The meeting was scheduled to start last night, Korea time.

In 2004, South Korea and India characterized their ties as “a long-term cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity.” But they are now planning to elevate that to a more strategic bond that will link the countries together in a variety of ways going forward, officials said.

With the development, India is expected to become Korea’s 13th strategic partner, while Korea will become India’s ninth strategic partner. The relationship will be focused on political and security exchange with the establishment of high-level dialogue channels.

According to Blue House officials, the two leaders are expected to set up a goal to increase bilateral trade to $30 billion by 2014, based on the implementation this year of the Cooperative Economic Partnership Agreement. That would represent a significant spike from the $12.2 billion in trade between the nations in 2009.

At the summit, Lee is also expected to push forward Korea’s ambition to export its nuclear power plant technology and win a procurement contract with India by selling training aircraft.

Ahead of the summit, Lee promoted Korea’s nuclear energy technology before businessmen of Korea and India.

“Korea has world-class atomic power generation technology and experience with the stable operation of nuclear power plants,” Lee said at a luncheon yesterday. “I have promoted it to India’s foreign minister, and I hope the commerce minister can take note on that too. Cooperation in the nuclear energy field will benefit both nations greatly.”

Additionally, Blue House sources said Lee and Singh are scheduled to usher in an era of bilateral nuclear cooperation by signing a civil nuclear agreement. The pact will find a path for Korean companies to enter India’s nuclear energy market, Korean officials said, pointing to India’s plan to build 40 new reactors by 2032.

As of now, India has 17 nuclear reactors for power generation, and six are currently being built.

“For Korean companies to enter the market, a treaty by the two governments on nuclear energy cooperation is a prerequisite,” said a Blue House official. “Korea’s competitiveness has already been proven, so the future is up to the Indian leadership’s determination.”

Ahead of Lee’s trip, a senior Blue House official said India’s Nuclear Power Corporation and the Korea Electric Power Corporation had preliminary discussions on ways to cement new partnerships.

The official said Lee’s trip is intended to further cultivate this opportunity.

“India has already signed nuclear cooperation treaties with the United States, France and Russia, and some of those countries have already been eying India’s nuclear power plant project,” said another Seoul official. “It has been common practice to award the deal through private negotiation or via closed bidding, rather than having an open bidding process. Therefore, Korean companies will be able to enter the market quickly once the treaty is signed.”

Lee was also expected to support Korea’s bid to export trainer jets to India. India will announce the winning bid this year for a $500 million project to replace 60 training aircraft. It then expects to place orders during the first half of next year. Korea is seeking to export KT-1 basic trainers.

Following the summit, Lee and Singh were scheduled to attend the signing ceremony of a treaty on the transfer of sentenced persons. Memorandums of understanding on cooperation in IT, science and space technologies were also to be signed. Seoul officials have expressed high hopes that the two countries will team up on IT. The two countries have agreed to establish a cooperation body to marry Korea’s hardware and India’s software to increase competitiveness in the world market.

The summit will serve as a stepping stone for Korea to aggressively enter the market of India, which has the second largest population and the fourth largest purchasing power in the world, the Blue House said. Lee’s visit to the country is also intended to complete the government’s New Asia Initiative network, it added. The initiative, outlined last year, is Lee’s vision of developing closer ties with countries in the region rather than focusing specifically on the world’s superpowers. “The New Asia Initiative is also in line with India’s ‘Look East’ policy,” said Kim Eun-hye, Lee’s spokeswoman. “The president’s signature business diplomacy will bring about a cooperative partnership that will complement the two nations.”

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
Related Korean Article

이 대통령 “한국 원전 우수성 자신한다”

인도를 방문 중인 이명박 대통령은 25일(이하 현지시간) 만모한 싱 총리와 정상회담을 하고 기존의 양국 간 ‘장기적 협력동반자 관계’를 ‘전략적 동반자 관계’로 격상키로 합의했다. 각 분야의 협력 수준을 한 단계 끌어올리기로 한 것이다. 양국 정상은 또 정치·안보 분야의 협력을 강화하기 위해 차관급 외교안보대화를 신설키로 했다.

두 정상은 ‘포괄적 경제동반자 협정(CEPA)’이 지난 1일 발효된 것을 계기로 지난해 122억 달러였던 양국 간 교역 규모를 2014년까지 300억 달러(약 34조원)로 확대한다는 목표도 설정했다. 회담 뒤 두 정상은 이 같은 내용을 골자로 한 31개 항의 공동성명을 발표했다. 두 정상은 또 한국 원전의 인도 수출과 관련, “민간 원자력에 관한 협력의 틀을 발전시켜 나가기로 합의했다”고 공동성명에 명시했다.

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