With the geopolitical uncertainty increasing with challenges such as rising China, COVID-19 pandemic, and seemingly retrenchment of U.S. in the International geopolitical game. There is a shifting geopolitical dynamic being reinforced. This has raised some doubts with U.S. partners, allies, and friends of the extent to which they can depend on the Administration in Washington DC. On the other hand, the Afghanistan situation has also given states like India and South Korea to develop and strengthen bilateral partnerships with like-minded countries in the region to enhance and ensure their interests in the Indo-Pacific.
The Two middle powers in Asia, India, and South Korea had doubts about U.S. Foreign Policy strategic clarity. The current afghan situation puts India into a narrow corridor of ‘wait and watch policy, with its implications ranging from tactical to medium and strategic. Similarly, South Korea had the same experiences when it came under economic pressure from Beijing to deploy the THAAD missile system in the Korean peninsula. In both cases, there seems to be a lack of communication and cooperation between the U.S. and its allies and partner, South Korea and India. However, irrespective of the emerging geopolitical game in Indo-Pacific between the U.S. and China, both India and South Korea understand the vitality of a Multialignment Foreign policy. The importance of having strategic autonomy on critical issues that influence the geopolitics of a region like Afghanistan has been a lesson for India and U.S. allies like NATO. This assertion of a more independent foreign policy, which is based on the National Interests of individual states and not only on U.S. Foreign policy, is an outcome that most states are now realizing post the Afghanistan withdrawal.
India and South Korea have realized this earlier and have been working to strengthen their relations across political, economic, and cultural domains. India’s ‘Act East policy’ and South Korea’s ‘New Southern Policy’ converge to strengthen strategic partnerships with like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific, which creates an anchor of stability for the region’s security. Both India and South Korea, with their aligning interests in regional security, can work together. I have identified three areas where both India and South Korea can co-operate closely.
PROVIDING HUMANITARIAN AID AND ASSISTANCE
The situation in Afghanistan and Myanmar has been bleak, where there are high possibilities of a Civil War taking place. This uncertainty with the ongoing instability in both states will only exacerbate and accelerate the region’s insecurity and the humanitarian disaster. U.N. raised alarms over looming humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan. Similarly, the U.N. World Food Programme brief mentions the food insecurity in Myanmar, affecting approximately 3.3 million people. There has been a lack of medical supplies, food commodities, and healthcare facilities in Afghanistan and Myanmar with the ongoing humanitarian crisis. India and South Korea, both essential members of the international community and concerned with the developing situation in Afghanistan and Myanmar, can work closely to provide humanitarian assistance. India has provided refugees to both afghan and Myanmar citizens fleeing persecution. Similarly, South Korea has accepted Afghan refugees and helped Myanmar citizens living in Korea. Even South Korea and India are working together with ASEAN to ensure that the situation comes back to normal and democracy can be restored in Myanmar.
STRENGTHENING SECURITY IN THE INDO-PACIFIC REGION
India and South Korea have been working closely together to strengthen their defense relations. South Korea is already the fourth largest exporter of arms trade partner to India, only after France, the U.S., and Russia. The acquisition of K-9 VAJRA-T, a self-propelled gun by the Indian Army, a joint venture between South Korean defense major HTW and Indian L&T, shows the close relationship between the two countries. The latest project, being the construction of six P-75(I) submarines for the Indian navy, with a cost of over 40,000 crores, may go to South Korean shipbuilders after the German group expressed its intentions to withdraw from the negotiations. This ‘special strategic partnership’ is now entering a new phase of cooperation, with India and South Korea both increasing their role in the security of the Indo-Pacific region. With growing concerns of Chinese military power and influence in the region. India and South Korea are now engaging with each other bilaterally and through QUAD-plus format. The cooperation expresses a Free Open and Inclusive Indo-Pacific and calls for closer relations with the ASEAN states. This cooperation is based on the foundations of the states sharing the liberal-democratic political system where the rule of law, human rights, and freedom of navigation constitute the bedrock of the stable international order. Maritime security cooperation, especially Counter piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, is another area where both countries can work closely.
Equitable Vaccine distribution is an immediate challenge the developing world is facing right now. The economic repercussions of a long-lasting pandemic are harmful to the global economy and that of India and South Korea, latter economic growth depending hugely on the exports. Both India and South Korea realize even the need for a globalized world and the free movement of goods, commodities, and people. As an essential players in Vaccine production, India and South Korea can ensure that the world, particularly the low-income and middle-income states, gets vaccines as fast as possible. Before the second wave India had already supplied 66 million vaccines to 95 countries under Grant, Commercial and COVAX facilities. Similarly, South Korea provided a donation of 200 million dollars to the COVAX program. As now more vaccines are being produced and approved by WHO, India and South Korea can work together to ensure a fast supply of vaccines to the world.
In the contemporary changing geopolitical scenario where states are adjusting with the multipolar world, there is an opportunity for a middle power like India and South Korea to work in the diverse domain. Be it across political, economic, and defense sectors to safeguard their national interests and uphold the rules-based international order. India and South Korea can strengthen both traditional and non-traditional security in Indo-Pacific, particularly in the region, on issues such as; humanitarian aid and assistance issues, traditional security in the Indo-pacific region, and equitable distribution of vaccines in the world. This amicable partnership by two Asian states can become a template going forward for closer cooperation and alignment of like-minded countries across the region.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Eastern Interest Team.
Abhishek Sharma holds a masters degree in International Relations from South Asian University. He is interested in evolving Geopolitics of East-Asia, and the Indo-Pacific Region with a special focus on India-South Korea relations and Indian Foreign Policy. His research interests also includes intersection of Gender and International Politics, particularly in Environmental Peace building, Nuclear Disarmament and Feminist Foreign Policy.