Mint Explainer: What’s on Jaishankar’s agenda in South Korea and Japan?

External affairs minister S Jaishankar. Photo: HT_PRINT
External affairs minister S Jaishankar. Photo: HT_PRINT

Summary

  • India’s foreign minister is expected to discuss cooperation on critical and emerging technologies, Indo-pacific issues, and China during his four-day visit that begins on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, India’s external affairs minister S Jaishankar will leave for a four-day visit to South Korea and Japan, where he is expected to discuss cooperation on advanced technologies, especially semiconductors, besides a host of other issues. Mint breaks down his agenda.

What's on the cards?

Jaishankar will first travel to Seoul, where he is expected to chair the 10th India-Korea Joint Commission Meeting with the new South Korean foreign minister Cho Tae-yul. At previous meetings, the two countries have focused on supply-chain security and collaborating on advanced technologies. Last August, India’s deputy national security adviser Vikram Misri visited South Korea to discuss critical and emerging technologies. New Delhi and Seoul have also set up a trilateral dialogue with the US on critical tech, led by the National Security Councils of the three countries.

Jaishankar will then travel on to Japan on Wednesday, where he will meet foreign minister Yoko Komikawa. According to India’s foreign ministry, the two will discuss defence, digital technologies, semiconductors, clean energy and high-speed rail, among other things.

What are the other issues on the agenda?

Discussions on Indo-Pacific issues and China are also expected during the visit. While Japan is a member of the Quad and has spoken about its concerns regarding China, South Korea has been more reticent. Seoul has attempted a more balanced policy as it tries to find a path between China and the United States.

Trade and investment will also be a likely topic of conversation with both Tokyo and Seoul. While Japan has announced targets for large investments into India, Seoul’s investment in India remains relatively muted.

What are the issues in bilateral ties?

Experts have said that Seoul and New Delhi have often found it hard to prioritise the other. India’s focus in East Asia has typically been on China and Japan, while South Korea’s recent efforts to diversify its foreign partners, such as through the New Southern Policy, have focussed on Southeast Asian countries rather than India. India has also raised concerns that its 2009 free trade agreement with South Korea is unbalanced in Seoul’s favour. Meanwhile, New Delhi and Tokyo have seen fairly anaemic growth in bilateral trade.

What are the key strategic issues?

India and South Korea have had some success on defence. India has bought K9 Vajra howitzers, made by Korea’s Hanwha, for its army. A senior executive from Hanwha told Indian media that submarines and space-technology cooperation could be a key focus. Defence ministers from both countries have travelled to the other and bureaucracies have remained in touch. Although both sides raised their strategic dialogue to the level of a 2+2 Ministerial meeting in 2019, no such meeting has taken place.

India and Japan have also committed to working together on robotics, underwater platforms and drones.

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