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IFANS Focus India’s Growing Strategic Clout and Implications for the Yoon Suk Yeol Government CHO Won Deuk Upload Date 2022-06-16 Hits 458
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I. Introduction
II. The War in Ukraine and India’s Strategic Importance
III. Assessment and Implications
Ⅳ. Implications for the new ROK Government



I. Introduction

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has made headlines around the world over the past few months, and India’s diplomatic moves has captured as much attention as the development on the ground in Ukraine. India’s presence in global politics has never been greater than before as leaders and high-level officials of major countries around the world have visited New Delhi in a row since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. India has been actively participating in the U.S.-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue in recent years to counter growing security threats from China. India, on the other hand, continues to maintain relations with Russia, its longstanding military and diplomatic partner. The longstanding partnership, to some extent, explains India’s refusal to condemn Russia and as well as its neutral stance despite the Kremlin’s violation of the rule of law. India’s approach stands in contrast to that of other members of the Quad and European countries largely focusing on imposing harsh sanctions against Russia. The Western bloc expressed concerns about India’s position on and response to the war in Ukraine. Nevertheless, the U.S. and other Quad members are looking to increase engagement with India and accept its position, given India’s increasing strategic value in keeping China in check.
     
Over the past years, the strategic importance of India for the U.S. in its push for the Indo-Pacific strategy has grown rapidly. Moreover, India has increasingly become a vital player on the global stage in non-military domains such as global supply chains, digital economy, advanced technology, climate change, and vaccine supply. The new South Korean government led by President Yoon Suk Yeol is expected to pursue a foreign policy focused on upgrading the ROK-U.S. alliance into a comprehensive strategic alliance and advancing economic security in the Indo-Pacific region. President Yoon envisions South Korea as a “global pivotal state,” so deepening strategic cooperation with India is no longer an option but a necessity for President Yoon and his foreign policy team. This article aims to take stock of the latest developments in India’s foreign policy and how they will affect the trajectory of the new Korean government’s foreign policy in the coming years.
 
 
II. The War in Ukraine and India’s Strategic Importance

India’s acquiescence in the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its neutral stance have raised skepticism about whether India is genuinely committed to acting as America’s reliable strategic partner in the Indo-Pacific and bolstering regional cooperation through the Quad. India is the only Quad member that has not joined sanctions against Russia and abstained from voting on United Nations Security Council resolutions condemning Russian actions. India heavily relies on Russian arms for its defense, but this does not fully explain its response to the ongoing Russian aggression. While India still imports a considerable amount of military equipment from Russia, the country has seen a decline in its arms imports from Russia. New Delhi is seeking to diversify its sources of defense procurement by reaching out to countries like France, the United States, and Israel. From India’s perspective, Russia’s strategic value lies in its potential to keep China in check. The Kremlin could be an alternative force to contain the rapid growth of China’s economic and military power and its expanding clout over the region surrounding India. The presence of Russia could keep China from wielding too much power in minilaterals like BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. On top of that, if India chooses to be overtly hostile to Russia, the Kremlin and Beijing could further strengthen their solidarity in the coming years. And Russia may respond to India’s hostility by refusing to act as a communication channel between India and China should a conflict arise between the two countries. 
    
In anticipation of subtle shifts in India’s position on the Russia-Ukraine war, several leaders and high-level officials of major countries have travelled to New Delhi over the past few weeks, a move described as a diplomatic “campaign” against India by its External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. In particular, the United States has expressed deep concern and pressured India to change its position on Russia. U.S. President Joe Biden has said only India among the Quad group of countries is “somewhat shaky” in acting against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Daleep Singh, U.S. deputy National Security Advisor, also warned against India’s aligning with Russia, noting “It would not be in India’s interest to accelerate its Russian imports of energy and other commodities.” 
    
But even as the West continues to express concerns about India’s neutrality and pressures the country to change course, the Quad members are trying to pull the country closer to their side. The Quad reaffirmed that its strategic priority is to counter China’s rise and has sought to decouple India from Russia. The U.S., for its part, is seeking to support India’s diversification of energy imports and exploring multiple options with the Indian government to modernize the Indian armed forces. 
    
Despite fundamental differences regarding Russia, the Biden administration continues to underscore that countering China in the Indo-Pacific region is still its top priority. This reflects the growing strategic significance and value of India in achieving U.S. foreign policy goals in the Indo-Pacific. 


III. Assessment and Implications

India’s diplomatic response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been distinctive among the Quad members, revealing that the strategic interests of India do not necessarily align with those of the U.S., Australia, and Japan over all the issues. 
    
While the United States views that the issues in Eurasia are intertwined with the matters in the Indo-Pacific, India tends to approach the Eurasian affairs and Indo-Pacific affairs as two separate issues. India will eventually choose to deepen cooperation with the U.S. to advance shared interests, like countering China’s growing influence, but it is not likely to completely sever the long-standing relationship with Russia. 
    
Despite differences over the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the U.S. views that India could play the biggest role in keeping China in check, which is still a top priority for Washington. Therefore, the Biden administration is expected to induce India to cooperate with the U.S. in a way that aligns with U.S. national interests, rather than forcing the country to pick a side. Quad members will likely try to pull India closer without putting too much pressure, because they know that using pressure to change India’s behavior may backfire and weaken the Quad and other bilateral, minilateral security cooperation arrangements in the Indo-Pacific. 
    
The Quad and Europe are likely to offer India a wide array of alternatives to pull the country closer to the Western sphere, rather than pressuring India to immediately sever its ties with Russia. For instance, the Biden administration is expected to put in a lot of time and effort to reduce India’s dependence on Russian arms to loosen the strategic partnership between the two countries and bolster defense cooperation with India to improve military interoperability in the Indo-Pacific region. The war in Ukraine has shown that Russian military capabilities have been somewhat overestimated; it revealed flaws and weaknesses in Russia’s armed forces and weapons system. India, just like its Quad partners, has witnessed the overrated aspects of Russia’s military capabilities. New Delhi will gradually come to see little value in deepening strategic partnerships with the Kremlin and depending too much on Russian weapons.   


Ⅳ. Implications for the new ROK Government

President Yoon Suk Yeol was officially sworn in as South Korea’s president on May 10, 2022. The Yoon government announced 110 key tasks for the next five years. President Yoon laid out the ROK’s foreign policy initiative for a global pivotal state that envisions a heightened role in advancing freedom, peace, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. To this end, the Yoon administration finalized detailed national tasks: establishing regional networks for cooperation to promote co-prosperity; strengthening the ROK’s role as a global pivotal state; formulating and implementing proactive economic diplomacy; and creating a virtuous cycle of advanced technology development and bolstered arms exports. So, India is one of the key partners that the Yoon Suk Yeol government needs to work with to make South Korea a global pivotal state for the following reasons.
    
First, as unveiled in the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy, the U.S. views India as a leading power in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific. Over the past decade, India has expanded its diplomatic influence and established multi-layered global cooperation networks. Therefore, efforts at deepening relations with India will significantly help South Korea broaden its diplomatic horizons and networks. In particular, to establish regional networks for cooperation to promote co-prosperity, it is advised that the Yoon administration formulate and steer its India policy with the country as a hub for Korean diplomacy in the region from a mid-to-long-term perspective. More specifically, India has established partnerships with major countries in the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, and Europe beyond South Asia, and is leading various global and regional multilateral forums and initiatives, including the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and the India Ocean Rim Association (IORA). The Yoon administration needs to seek ways to capitalize on these partnerships and initiatives by joining hands with India.
    
Although South Korea might be a little late in its efforts to deepen cooperation with India compared to other major players in the Indo-Pacific region, it is still important to scale up efforts at bolstering its strategic partnership with India. In a telephone conversation with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which was then President-elect Yoon’s fifth telephone conservation after he spoke with other heads of state – the U.S., Japan, the United Kingdom, and Australia, President Yoon shared perspectives on the need to deepen and broaden cooperation between South Korea and India in various areas – emerging green technologies, cutting-edge technologies, and creation of resilient supply chains. President Yoon and Prime Minister Modi agreed to advance the special strategic partnership between South Korea and India, concurring on the need to strengthen the two countries’ strategic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific to promote peace and prosperity around the world as 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the ROK and India’s establishment of diplomatic relations. In an conversation with the Indian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Sripriya Ranganatan, President Yoon Suk Yeol also indicated that his administration will shore up efforts in the days ahead to deepen and broaden the ROK-India relationship.
    
Second, the defense industry is one of the most promising areas of ROK-India cooperation that would provide a wide spectrum of cooperation opportunities for the two sides. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, reducing India’s dependence on Russia’s weapons, defense equipment, and weapons platform, has topped the urgent priority list of the U.S. and other major countries in the region. Accordingly, the U.S., Japan, and Australia will likely support India to strengthen its defense capabilities. India will also need to acquire advanced weapons systems and naval weapons from the U.S. and other Western countries considering the poor performance of Russian weaponry in the field. Therefore, if South Korea and India forge and deepen cooperation in the defense industry, it would be possible to find out where India and U.S.' policy priorities intersect, which will help strengthen the ROK-U.S. alliance as well as ROK-India cooperation. So, it is recommended that South Korea scale up efforts at advancing cooperation with India in the defense industry to deepen and broaden the two countries’ strategic partnerships. In particular, as the talks between South Korea and India's defense ministers set up guidelines, it is necessary to jointly produce and export military hardware, strengthen information sharing, and promote cooperation in the cyber and space sectors. Although India currently relies heavily on Russia for military equipment, it is worth noting that it is pursuing an "Atmanirbhar Bharat" policy as an initiative to produce weapons in India.
    
Third, assuring economic security has emerged as an important national security priority. And with India’s growing strategic value in various domains - digital security, supply chains, public health, and vaccines, it is critical to step up efforts to strengthen cooperation with India. Above all, South Korea should seriously consider strengthening cooperation with India in areas such as high-tech, supply chain, and digital security to protect its national interests, as the two countries joined the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). In particular, securing India as one of the core manufacturing bases to rebuild the global supply chain, which is shared by the two countries as a common concern, will also help promote its economic security. Streamlining economic cooperation between South Korea and India with well-thought-out policies could give Korea the advantage of securing more strategic autonomy by reducing its excessive dependence on China to some extent.
    
Taken together, the previous Moon Jae-in administration made diplomatic efforts to strengthen and elevate ASEAN-India relations through the New Southern Policy. Although the New Southern Policy has achieved decent results in raising the overall level of cooperation with ASEAN, some observers criticized that it has relatively lacked policy initiatives for India due to ASEAN-centered policy implementation. Therefore, the Yoon Suk Yeol administration needs to formulate and implement its India policy with a fresh perspective, focusing on the development of strategic relations with India by clearly defining the differences in the strategic values of India and ASEAN in current international politics. To this end, it is necessary to seek ways to significantly elevate the level of ROK-India cooperation in the wake of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Korea and India in 2023. In particular, it is advised to formulate a roadmap for the development of Korea-India relations over the next 50 years along with the plan to hold a special Korea-India summit in 2023. In addition, for smooth strategic consultations between South Korea and India, it is necessary to strengthen the dialogue platform of the two countries' national security offices and establish a new 2+2 meeting of foreign and defense ministers.
    
As mentioned above, India is a leading power in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, and its strategic, economic, and diplomatic presence on the international political stage is increasing significantly. For this reason, Korea, which has emerged as one of the pivotal states in the international arena, must strengthen cooperation with India, a hub of the Indian Ocean and an important cooperation partner in addressing global issues to serve as a responsible stakeholder in the international community and broaden its diplomatic horizon.


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