New Delhi: India and South Korea on Tuesday agreed to add content to their strategic ties through an intensification of consultations and top-level interactions against the backdrop of major geopolitical changes in Asia, building on the existing edifice of economic ties that the two sides pledged to further strengthen. 

In a joint vision statement, the two countries reaffirmed their mutual intent to strengthen their “special strategic partnership" and signed a series of agreements, including an Early Harvest package—issues where a breakthrough was achieved—to upgrade the India-Korea Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).

South Korean President Moon Jae-in also set a trade target of $50 billion to be achieved by 2030, up from the $20 billion at present. Korean investments in India have amounted to almost $7 billion since 2000. Moon has urged Korean companies to participate in Indian infrastructure and manufacturing in a big way. 

Moon is on his first visit to India since taking office in May last year and comes three years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to South Korea.

The visit takes place against the backdrop of Seoul looking to improve ties with North Korea with Moon meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in April leading to a summit meet between Kim and US President Donald Trump last month.

“The core of the relationship (between India and South Korea) remains economic," said former Indian ambassador to South Korea Vishnu Prakash, adding the two sides were working on building up the strategic aspect of bilateral ties, which at present remained “aspirational."

Both Modi and Moon spoke on Tuesday of building on the complementarities between India’s “Act East" policy and South Korea’s “New Southern Policy". The “Act East" policy aims to deepen India’s ties with the fast growing economies of South-East Asia besides shoring up ties with countries such as Japan, while Moon’s strategy looks at diversifying Seoul’s economic and political linkages with South-East Asia and India reducing reliance in its two biggest trading partners, China and the US. 

The joint vision statement highlighted the fact that the two countries had “agreed to explore further possibilities to coordinate efforts in the defence and strategic spheres" and in this context South Korea and India “will enhance military exchanges, training and experience-sharing, and research and development, including innovative technologies for mutual benefit".

“We also agreed to encourage our defence industries to intensify cooperation in this regard," the statement said.

“Recognizing the link between prosperity and security, we reaffirmed the importance of freedom of navigation, overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce. We supported initiatives for peaceful resolution of conflict through dialogue, underlying the centrality of sovereignty and territorial integrity, in accordance with the universally-recognised principles of international law," the statement said.

China has in the past put strictures on the movement of ships and flights through the South China Sea, which it claims almost in its entirety, putting it in contention with some South=East Asian countries.

Both countries recognized the “importance of regular high-level exchanges to consolidate progress in the bilateral partnership." 

The two countries also agreed to “intensify leadership-level contact, including through biennial visit by the leaders of the two countries".

“We agreed to expand interaction by regularising existing dialogue mechanisms as well as by exploring other areas of mutual interest and cooperation," the statement said.

“We resolved to work together to add new substance and impetus to bilateral cooperation in all areas of engagement so as to contribute to regional and global peace and prosperity. In this context, we agreed to explore tripartite partnership for development in third countries, beginning with capacity building programmes in Afghanistan," the statement said.

In his comments, Modi lauded the Moon’s efforts to bring peace to the Korean peninsula. “During our talks, I told President Moon that proliferation linkages between North-East Asia and South Asia is a matter of concern to India. Therefore, India is also a stakeholder in the peace process. We will do our bit to ensure peace," Modi said in a reference to India’s concerns about North Korea aiding Pakistan’s missile programme. 

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