By Vishnu Makhijani
Seoul: Indicative of a growing closeness, India and South Korea Sunday aimed to double their annual trade to $40 billion by 2015, boosted military ties and eased visa norms to promote more business contacts.
“Bilateral trade has risen by 65 percent over the past two years since the implementation of our Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. We have therefore set a new target of $40 billion by 2015,” visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at a joint media interaction with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak after their summit talks here.
“We also agreed to accelerate work in progress to upgrade the Agreement and make it more ambitious,” added Manmohan Singh, who concluded his two-day official visit to South Korea that came ahead of the March 26-27 Nuclear Security Conference here.
This is Manmohan Singh’s second visit to South Korea in two years. He was here in 2010 for the G-20 summit. Lee was the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade in 2010, while Indian President Pratibha Patil had visited Seoul last July, when the two countries signed an agreement on civil nuclear cooperation.
Manmohan Singh was accorded a ceremonial reception at the Blue House presidential palace, where, with a bone-chilling breeze blowing, he inspected a guard of honour made up of soldies dresed in contemporary and traditional uniforms and interacted with Indian and South Korean schoolchildren who enthusiastically waved flags of the two countries.
After the talks, Lee hosted a lunch for Manmohan Singh at the Blue House.
The talks, Manmohan Singh said, were “aimed at adding momentum and substance to our strategic partnership. Ours is a partnership built on shared values that provide a firm foundation for further development”, adding the two leaders “agreed that our strong economic ties are fundamental to our growing interaction”.
“I invited Korean firms to invest in India in a big way. Companies such as LG, Hyundai and Samsung are already household names in India. We would like to see small and medium sized Korean companies also making India a base for their manufacturing,” the prime minister said.
“I informed President Lee that India is making a huge effort in upgrading our physical infrastructure. We want Korean companies to help us realize this objective and benefit from the opportunities provided by this,” Manmohan Singh added.
Noting that the two countries had agreed to expand political and security cooperation, the prime minister said: “With this objective in mind, I informed President Lee of India’s decision to position a defence attache at our embassy here in Seoul before the end of the year.”
At a briefing later for the Indian media accompanying the prime minister, Sanjay Singh, secretary (east) in the external affairs ministry, asserted that these growing relations would not impact ties with China.
“Our relations with one country are not predicated on ties with other countries,” he said.
Referring to South Korea hosting the Nuclear Security Summit, Manmohan Singh said he requested President Lee “for Korea’s support to India’s quest to join international regimes such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement”.
The two countries also expressed concern over North Korea’s plans to launch an “application satellite” next month, saying nothing should be done to increase tensions in the region.
They slso discussed ways and means to enhance cooperation between their scientists and technicians, including how to operationalize a joint Science and Technology Fund of $10 million.
“India has also offered to launch Korean satellites on Indian space launch vehicles,” the prime minister said.
The Indian leader praised South Korea’s transformation into a developed economy and
said “Korean companies were among the first to respose confidence in India after we opened our economy in 1991. Many Korean brands are household names in India.”
Since 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, “we agreed to celebrate this year in a befitting manner”, Manmohan Singh said.
He also invited President Lee to visit India.
The visa agreement was signed by Sanjay Singh, secretary (east), in the Indian External Affairs Ministry and Kim Sung-han, the South Korean vice foreign minister.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be contacted at email@example.com)