“While we work for realizing the ‘Indian Dream’, we seek like-minded partners and, among them, we see South Korea (Republic of Korea) as a truly natural partner."
                                                                                                                                            -Sh. Narendra Modi

India is becoming recognised as a land of opportunity. The deep-rooted connections between India and the Republic of Korea (ROK) can be traced back to 48 AD, as documented in the 13th-century Korean text "SamgukYusa." It tells the story of Princess Suriratna of Ayodhya, later known as Queen Heo Hwang-ok, who married King Kim-Suro of the ancient Gaya Confederacy in Korea. While these early connections were profound, it was not until 1973 that formal diplomatic relations were established. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this milestone in 2023, the five decades of diplomatic ties between India and the ROK symbolize a vibrant and enduring relationship that encompasses politics, economics, and culture. Moreover, they hold the promise of a brighter and more sustainable future.

Tracing the History of Strategic Partnership

The strategic relationship between India and ROK started in 2004, when a "Long-Term Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity" was signed, laying the groundwork for robust economic and strategic ties. 6 years later, the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Korea was established to facilitate Korean companies interested in Indian business ventures. The relationship further strengthened during the visit of ROK President Lee Myung-bak to India in year 2010 which led to an upgrade to a "Strategic Partnership" which was further elevated to a "Special Strategic Partnership" during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's official visit in 2015.

To expand this strategic partnership, India's current Prime Minister Narendra Modi followed a revised 'Act East Policy' that replaced the 'Look East Policy' in 2014. Similarly, the former President of the ROK, Mr. Moon Jae-in, announced a 'New Southern Policy' in 2017, both of which former and latter policies were highly complementary as they focused on expanding business ties with the economies of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member nations, India and ROK.

More recently, in December 2022, under the leadership of the current President Yoon Suk Yeol, the ROK released its Indo-Pacific policy of "Strategy for a Free, Peaceful, and Prosperous Indo-Pacific Region". The primary objective of the policy is to progress the unique strategic cooperation with India, a prominent regional partner that shares similar values, has the largest population in the world, advanced space, information technology, and tremendous economic potential.

With a long history of strategic ties, there was a high-level visit to New Delhi against the backdrop of the 2023 G20 Summit where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Yoon Suk Yeol met. President Yoon took a moment to commend India's stellar leadership within the G20 and expressed genuine admiration for the country's ambitious Chandrayaan mission. On the 50th anniversary of India and South Korea's diplomatic relations, the leaders talked about the development of their Special Strategic Partnership, regional and international issues and its implications for trade, defence manufacturing, semiconductors, and electric car batteries.

Nurturing the Defence Relationship

In recent years, India and the ROK have significantly strengthened their defence relations. They have established annual Defence Ministerial Dialogues since 2015, elevating them to a 2+2 dialogue in 2019. Both countries have signed multiple Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs)  to enhance research, development, and defence cooperation. The Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and ROK's Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) have been meeting regularly for Steering Committee Meetings for joint defence research and development efforts. In 2022, the Korea Coast Guard and Indian Coast Guard conducted joint exercises, further improving interoperability. Additionally, the countries held bilateral civil nuclear cooperation talks in July 2023 focused on nuclear power and capacity building.

Trade and Economic Relationship

India and ROK not only share robust cultural and strategic ties but also substantial business connections, with India serving as the second home for many prominent Korean corporations. India's 'Make in India' initiative has successfully attracted major Korean enterprises such as Hyundai and Hyosung and various other companies who have established themselves as leaders in the domestic market and harnessed India's infrastructure to manufacture goods for the global market. In 2016, The Commerce & Industry Minister Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman and Mr. Joo Hyunghwan, the Minister of Trade, Industry & Energy, Government of the Republic of Korea, launched ‘Korea Plus’, a special initiative to encourage and facilitate Korean investments in India under ‘Invest India’ which is the National Investment Promotion and Facilitation Agency of the Government of India. It encompasses all aspects of investment, including assisting Korean businesses entering the Indian market for the first time, looking into issues encountered by Korean companies operating in India, and advocating on their behalf for policies with the Indian government. In addition to helping with research and evaluation, Korea Plus will serve as a mediator in the setting up of meetings and offer advice and information to Korean businesses considering investing in India. The relationship between ROK and India has advanced significantly in recent years, and Korea Plus catalyzes to strengthen this bond even further.

Trade and economic relations gathered momentum following the implementation of a free trade agreement named the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which was signed on August 7, 2009. It is a cooperative agreement between the nations to strengthen economic relations through investment, trade facilitation, and cooperation across industries. It plays a crucial role in fostering economic collaboration and deepening the relationship between India and ROK. It marked the ROK’s first free trade pact with a BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) nation. CEPA opens Indian services markets, including telecom, construction, distribution (except retail), transportation, accounting, real estate, and more for ROK and other nations.

Since CEPA's inception in 2010, the India-ROK trade has shown significant fluctuations. In 2010, trade surged by 40% to over $17.11 Bn. Indian exports rose by 37% in 2010 while ROK exports increased by 42.7%. By 2018, it peaked at $21.49 Bn, with an 18.9% surge in India's exports. Though there was a dip in bilateral commerce in 2020 because of the global pandemic, it eventually recovered to record levels in 2022, totaling $27.8 Bn. There was a 9th round of negotiations for the up-gradation of the CEPA, which took place in Seoul in late 2022, indicating ongoing efforts to enhance and modernize this agreement.

Export-Import Data with ROK from 2018-2023

Export Import
Dated 09/11/2023
Value in $ Mn


From 2018-2019 to 2019-2020, there was a moderate growth in exports of 2.98%. A substantial surge of 72.59% was observed from 2020-2021 to 2021-2022. The percentage share of exports with ROK from total exports reached its peak in 2021-2022 of a massive 1.92%. Similarly, there is a significant increase in imports from ROK of 36.83% from 2020-2021 to 2021-2022. Another notable increase was seen of 21.46% from 2021-2022 to 2022-2023. The percentage share of imports with ROK from total imports increased in 2019-2020, took a slight dip in 2020-2021 due to the global pandemic, and has been increasing in subsequent years.

The surge in exports from 2020-2021 to 2021-2022 contributed significantly to total trade growth. Import growth has been volatile, with substantial fluctuations in percentage changes. The trade balance, though consistently negative, has shown signs of improvement in recent years.

FDI Data with ROK from  2018-2023

FDI Data with ROK
Dated 31/03/2023
Value in $ Mn


In the fiscal year 2022-2023, up to March 31, 2023, ROK directed $283.97 Mn in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) towards India. ROK's share in India's overall FDI stands at 0.62% which positions them at the 15th rank among all the countries contributing to India's total FDI inflows during the same period. The sectors witnessing significant investments include automobiles, metallurgical industries, computer hardware and software, electrical equipment, and construction activities. Noteworthy corporations making substantial investments in India between October 2019 and March 2023 are ANI Technologies Pvt. Ltd., Doosan Power Systems India Pvt. Ltd., and SD Biosensor Healthcare Pvt. Ltd. In terms of states, Karnataka, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh have emerged as the top three, attracting significant FDI from the ROK.

India and the ROK have a long-standing, robust trade and economic relationship. To strengthen this strategic alliance and encourage trade and investment opportunities for Korean companies in India, a high-level government delegation was led by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), Ministry of Commerce and Industry, to ROK. The delegation held discussions with key companies in sectors like electronics, food processing, textiles, and leather with a focus on strengthening these sectors for trade and investment opportunities in India. The visit also included high-level seminars supported by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) and, the Busan Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI) and a roundtable on the textile sector which saw participation from top textile companies, with the Korean Federation of Textile Industry (KOFOTI) serving as a partner. In addition, there were multi-sectoral one-on-one interactions with over 20 major Korean companies. Further, Trade sessions on Food Processing and Textiles took place, drawing active participation from both Indian exporters and Korean buyers and investors, along with representatives from Korean associations.

Cultural Relationship

India-ROK share a vibrant historic cultural relationship which can be traced back to 1929 when India’s Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore composed an evocative poem titled “Lamp of the East” which describes the rich and glorious history of Korea and also gave a peek into the bright future that beholds Korea. The relationship has been continuously evolving over the years, from the establishment of the Indian Cultural Center, celebrating the annual SARANG festival (a festival which showcases India's diverse artistic and musical expressions) in the ROK since 2015 to the opening of Korea-India Peace Park to commemorate the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. The bond between both countries strengthened further when the Uttar Pradesh Government renovated the Ram Katha Park on the banks of River Sarayu in Ayodhya and renamed it after the Korean Queen Heo Hwang-ok Memorial Park in 2021. Additionally, on June 27, 2022, the Busan University of Foreign Studies (BUFS) opened an India Centre to promote Korean activities focused on India.

The Korean wave in India encompasses not just music and drama but also language, cuisine (K-food), and other aspects of culture. Indian youth's eagerness to adopt Korean trends suggests that Korean culture has a wide-ranging impact. Netflix saw a staggering 370% increase in K-dramas' viewing in 2020 compared to 2019 due to Indians binge-watching these shows. An Indian satellite service provider launched a daily package for INR 1.3 (less than 2 cents)  that allowed users to watch Korean dramas with Hindi dubbing. Various well-known streaming service companies provide K-dramas with Hindi, Tamil and Telugu dubbing as well. The 2022 Indo-Pacific Strategy focuses on cultural exchanges, especially with India, leveraging global K-culture popularity. Strengthening ties with India's diverse background, ROK aims to build sustainable and mutually beneficial solidarity in the cultural and social domains.

Indian-Korean Community

Approximately 15,000 Indian nationals reside in the ROK. A substantial portion of them, particularly scholars, are engaged in advanced studies, predominantly in pure sciences. Recent years have witnessed an influx of professionals, particularly in sectors such as IT, shipping, and automobile, who are predominantly employed by prominent companies like Samsung, LG, Hyundai, TATA Daewoo, TCS, and Coupang. Furthermore, ROK universities host a notable contingent of Indian students and academic professionals. To foster closer coordination among the Indian and Korean communities, the Indian Embassy brought together several Indian Associations like Annapurna Indian Women's Association (AIWA), Indians in Korea (IIK), and Indian Merchants' Association (IMA) in the ROK. Under the leadership of the Embassy, these Committees organize several social and cultural events each year, such as Holi and Diwali celebrations, which give the community a chance to interact with one another and maintain ties to Indian culture.

Way Ahead

Institutionalizing the trilateral India-ASEAN-ROK dialogue, promoting maritime cooperation, improving connectivity, and fortifying economic and technological cooperation should be India’s and ROK’s top priorities. In technology, India and ROK need to change their cooperation approach from pure market economic principles to an economic and technology security orientation. Defence relations could also be strengthened with the support of a defence technology alliance with India. It will also support South Korea's ambition to become the fourth-largest defence exporter in the world by 2027, with a 5% share of the worldwide export market. ROK’s long-standing experience in creating a respectable domestic defence industry will be beneficial to India as it pursues its goal of creating a domestic technical manufacturing hub, as well as aiding India in significantly increasing its defence exports.

With a shared security connection with the US and democratic ideals, ROK and India can both be major players in the Indo-Pacific region, helping to realize their agendas for sustainable development through both multilateral and multilateral frameworks. India has become a crucial strategic ally in the ROK’s efforts to become a “global pivotal state” in the new Indo-Pacific framework, giving Korea's geopolitical and economic aspirations additional momentum on a worldwide basis.

To sustain the bilateral relationship between India and the ROK over the long run, the ROK must cultivate a local constituency. By cooperating to minimize differences, advancing the interests of the Global South, and supporting reforms, especially in multilateral forums that would make these forums more democratic and equitable, ROK and India can jointly contribute to the creation of a more equitable global governance system.

India and the ROK have established a bilateral trade target of $50 Bn until 2030. In the interim, partnerships could be established in the areas of infrastructure, supply chain resilience, clean energy, decarbonization, and building political synergy, as well as expanding economic and technological cooperation and strengthening the security vertical and global connection.


The 50th anniversary of India-ROK diplomatic ties in 2023 signifies a profound and enduring relationship, spanning millennia of shared history and common values. This bond encompasses diverse areas including politics, economics, and culture. With strengthened defence cooperation, burgeoning trade, and vibrant cultural exchanges, India and the ROK are poised for even greater collaboration in the future, bolstering their strategic partnership. Through policies and agreements such as the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), Act East Policy, New Southern Policy, Indo-Pacific Strategy, and reciprocal high-level visits, both nations aspire to fortify their future ties, forging a fresh alignment of capabilities and fostering even closer collaboration.

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