New Delhi: South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived in New Delhi on Sunday on a four-day visit that is expected to see Asia’s third and fourth largest economies forge new partnerships in the economic sphere with some big-ticket investment announcements.

Moon’s visit comes at a time of changes in the geopolitical landscape of North-East Asia that began with a summit meet between Moon and the reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in April and then the meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump last month.

It also comes three years after the last high-level interaction between the two countries—Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited South Korea in 2015 for talks with then South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Ties were then elevated to “special strategic partnership" with Modi seeking South Korean investments in many flagship programmes of the government including “Skill India" and “Make in India." A financing arrangement of $10 billion had been set by South Korea for infrastructure development in India, following the visit.

According to an article in the Diplomat magazine’s website, “During the (2017 presidential) election campaign, Moon pledged that he would elevate ties with India to the level of Korea’s relations with the four major powers in and around the Korean Peninsula—China, Japan, Russia and the United States." India also features prominently in Moon’s “new southern policy" that aims at boosting ties with India as well as South-East Asian countries, it said.

“This is a significant departure from Korea’s traditional foreign policy," the article noted, adding that, “It is partly a hedging strategy amid the US-China tug-of-war in the region, and partly a forward-looking move to address how Korea and India can together meet the demands of a dynamic future."

Moon’s schedule in India includes official talks with Modi which will take place on Tuesday, according to a schedule put out by the Indian foreign ministry.

“We expect the visit to open new partnership particularly in economic domain. Republic of Korea is a valued partner. Our bilateral trade last year passed $20 billion and investments are also rising," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar told reporters last week.

According to former Indian ambassador to South Korea Vishnu Prakash, the two countries seem to have got over the discomfort in ties caused by South Korea not being able to execute a $12 billion planned investment by its steel giant Posco. The proposal for a 12-million-tonne-capacity steel plant in Odisha was first floated in 2005 and seen as India’s largest foreign direct investment plan. But the South Korea firm pulled out of the project last year, after waiting for 12 years for clearances and being caught up in public resistance to the project.

“Posco was certainly an unhappy experience. But I think that has been left behind with South Korean investments worth $600 million coming in last year," Prakash said pointing at firms like carmaker Kia and Samsung announcing fresh investments in India in recognition of the Indian market and the buying power of the urban middle class.

According to Prakash, “the core of the India-South Korea relationship continues to remain primarily economic" with efforts on to impart more strategic content to the relationship with the two sides looking at defence cooperation. The two sides were looking at defence hardware procurement and manufacture, Prakash said pointing to India looking at minesweepers for the Indian navy. India has also sourced artillery guns from South Korea and looking to manufacture them in India under the “Make in India" programme, he added.

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