Seoul’s focus is people, prosperity and peace: Ambassador

Fresh from his success in initiating talks with the North Korean leadership and the U.S., South Korean President Moon Jae-in will arrive in India on Sunday for talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Describing his agenda, Ambassador
Shin Bong-Kil
says that India is the ‘new frontier’ for the Republic of Korea’s strategic and business interests, but many hurdles remain to growing the relationship.

What will be the main focus of President Moon’s visit beginning on Monday?

I like to say our main bilateral agenda will be 3P+. The 3 Ps stand for people, prosperity and peace. People means strengthening cultural and tourism ties. Prosperity means the economic agenda and peace refers to the Korean peninsula and regional issues, which we hope to discuss during President Moon Jae-in’s visit.

On the economic agenda, though there have been major assurances made during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in 2015 and from South Korea’s side as well, bilateral trade has not grown (in fact, it decreased between 2014 and 2016). What needs to be done?

One of the most important measures PM Modi took was to set up a “Korea-plus” special desk, which was very useful in easing investment opportunities. Many big and small companies have benefited from the desk. Also, the implementation of GST has been very positive for businesses that faced red tape and different taxes across the States.

When we compare our trade volumes with China, we see that India-RoK trade last year was only $20 billion, while China-RoK trade was $240 billion. Korean investment in India was $6.8 billion, including from Samsung, LG, but the investment volume in China was $57 billion.

So we feel we must seize the opportunities that the Indian market provides, and there is much more potential. For this we need the top business leaders of both countries to increase exchanges, and we are going to see a big delegation of leaders travel with President Moon to India.

PM Modi and President Moon are also going to cut the ribbon on Samsung’s mobile manufacturing unit, which will be the world’s largest, in Greater Noida.

What are the problems in realising this potential, then? Recently, Deputy Foreign Minister Enna Park said during a visit to India that the ‘ease of doing business’ remains a concern for Korean investors.

Well, there are still many hurdles in trade. We need to upgrade the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) to deal with them, and President Moon will discuss this with PM Modi. India in some areas is still not as open as Korea wants it to be. Big companies do have a competitive advantage here, but it is still very difficult for medium and small companies to enter this market.

On the P of Peace … What is the larger vision for bilateral cooperation in India-South Korea strategic ties ?

India is a central pillar of President Moon’s “new southern policy”, and he wants to elevate Korea’s relationship with India to the same level as ties with China, Japan, U.S. and Russia. During PM Modi’s visit to Seoul, we upgraded ties to make a special strategic partnership, but we need substance as well. In RoK, both the government and the private sector believe India is the next frontier for both strategic and economic ties. We also expect they will discuss the concept of the Indo-Pacific policy, which is now quite important.

PM Modi and President Moon will also build on their personal relationship. It is significant that President Moon will travel to India on July 8, which is exactly one year to the day when he met PM Modi on the sidelines of the Hamburg G-20 summit in 2017. Both leaders are very focussed on reforming their countries. PM Modi brought demonetisation and implemented GST, which were very risky moves. President Moon invited the North Korean leadership to Seoul, and even helped initiate the meeting between Chairman Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, which were also unprecedented and bold moves.

The Presidential “Blue House” had in a statement said President Moon would like to discuss India’s role in promoting peace in the Korean Peninsula. What is India’s role there?

India is a global power and a great country which has a voice and leverage with North Korea. India maintains ties with Pyongyang and its words cannot be disregarded by the North Korean leadership.

On nuclear issues, India has always emphasised the importance of non-proliferation… I think India took the right decision not to shut down its embassy there as the U.S. had suggested last year, and they will be thus able to exert influence on the issue.

India is a global power and a great country which has a voice and leverage with North Korea

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