NEW DELHI – Winter is India’s diplomatic high season, with the cool, sunny weather forming an ideal backdrop for pageantry, photo ops at the Taj Mahal or Delhi’s Red Fort, and bilateral deal-making. But this winter has been particularly impressive, with leaders from Japan and South Korea visiting to advance the cause of security cooperation in Asia.
The first to arrive was South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Despite a strong economic foundation, the bilateral relationship has long lacked a meaningful security dimension. But China’s recent assertiveness – including its unilateral declaration last November of a new Air Defense Identification Zone, which overlaps about 3,000 square kilometers of South Korea’s own ADIZ, in the Sea of Japan – has encouraged Park to shore up her country’s security ties with India.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s unpredictable and often provocative policies represent an additional impetus for improved ties – as do China’s increasingly visible plans to weaken South Korea’s alliance with the United States. Not surprisingly, the discussions during Park’s four-day visit focused on grand strategy, and included detailed talks on maritime security and naval shipbuilding.
Nuclear energy also featured prominently on the agenda, owing to both countries’ dependence on energy imported through dangerous sea-lanes. In 2008, South Korea, as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, supported the waiver granting India access to civilian nuclear technology and fuel from other countries – both of which it had been denied since becoming a nuclear-weapons power in 1974. Indeed, India’s nuclear tests are what initially spurred the NSG’s formation. South Korea’s support of India’s civilian nuclear ambitions earned it high praise in India and helped to advance bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation.