INDIA-ROK DEFENCE RELATIONS
1. India and ROK share the same Independence Day of 15th Aug and gained independence within two years of each other (i.e. 1947 and 1945 respectively). In 1948, first ever general elections were held in Korea under the auspices of the UN. The UN appointed India as the Chairman of the nine-member United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK) to organize and oversee the elections. Mr KPS Menon was the Chairman of this Commission and played an important role in the conduct of peaceful and highly representative elections in May 1948 which led to the formation of the first democratically elected Government of independent ROK.
India’s Contribution during the Korean War and in the Armistice
2. India made significant contribution during the Korean War (1950-53) and period (1953-54) following the Armistice (1953) in the Korean peninsula. It deployed an Army Medical Unit; the 60th Parachute Field Ambulance commanded by Lieutenant Colonel AG Rangaraj, Mahavir Chakra. The unit disembarked at Busan on 20 Nov 1950 and was initially deployed at Pyongyang on 29 Nov 1950. It was then divided into two sub-units, the ‘Forward Elements’ grouped with 27 British Brigade and the “Administrative Elements” relocated at Daegu to assist the Korean Army Hospital and also treating civilians. The unit was placed under command 28 British Brigade on 01 Jul 1951, as part of Commonwealth Division. It participated in a series of operations including “OP TOMAHAWK” with the 8th US Army from 23 to 31 Mar 1953 in the area of Munsan and “OP COMMANDO” until 23 Aug 1953. The unit contributed a total of 627 ranks and treated over 222,324 patients including civilians during the course of its deployment and earned numerous awards and appreciation. During the entire course of its tenure, the 60 Parachute Field Ambulance lost three soldiers and 23 other were injured while supporting combat operations.
3. The Korean War (1950-53) ended with an armistice agreement in Jul 1953. It was the Indian proposal at UNGA for termination of Korean War that was finally adopted, and resulted in formulation of the “Armistice Agreement”. Five nations were invited to form the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (NNRC) namely Czechoslovakia, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and India, and collectively nominated India to lead the NNRC. Lieutenant General K.S. Thimmaya was appointed as the Chairman of NNRC and its role was to supervise exchange of Prisoners of War. India dispatched one Brigade Group, designated as Custodian Forces-India (CFI) comprising 5500 all Ranks to Korea, under Major General SSP Thorat. The CFI took charge of over 25,000 Prisoners of War and assisted in repatriation to their countries. President Syngman Rhee of ROK alleged Indian leadership supporting communist forces and presented all possible impediments in implementation of assigned task. Reluctant support was finally provided under immense pressure from the US and other Commonwealth nations. The discipline, neutrality, fair play and firmness displayed by the Indian troops were highly admired even by their detractors.
4. India and ROK defence relations have expanded in recent years, spurred by a convergence of strategic interests, shared mutual goodwill and several high-level exchanges. Bilateral ties between the two countries were raised to 'Strategic Partnership' during the visit of President of ROK Mr Lee Myung-bak in January 2010 and further elevated to “Special Strategic Partnership” during the reciprocal visit of PM Narendra Modi to ROK in 2015. Subsequent visits of President Moon Jae-in in 2018 and Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Feb 2019 gave further impetus to the strengthening cooperation between the two nations. The natural alignment of India’s ‘Act East Policy’ & ROK’s ‘New Southern Policy’, and now shared values in Indo-Pacific region has opened a new chapter in the bilateral relations between the two countries. The Defence Ministers of ROK and India have been interacting annually since 2015. The annual ministerial interactions have provided necessary policy support and framework to the bilateral relations. The platform is under consideration to be formalized as “Defence Ministerial Dialogue”.
5. Several important agreements were signed during the visit to ROK of then Defence Minister A.K. Antony in Sept 2010 including MoUs on Defence Cooperation, and Defence Research and Development. India agreed to set up a Defence Wing at its Embassy at Seoul, which opened on 26 Oct 2012. This was followed by several high-level engagements including, visit of Minister of National Defence of ROK Mr. Kim, Kwan-jin to India in December 2012, visit of former Defence Minister of India, Mr. Manohar Parrikar to ROK in April 2015, and visit of Mr. Arun Jaitley, Hon’ble Finance Minister & former Raksha Mantri to ROK in June 2017. Hon’ble Defence Minister Mr. Rajnath Singh visited ROK in Sep 2019 and Mr. Raj Kumar, Secretary (Defence Production) visited ROK to attend 9th JCM from 19 to 21 Oct 2021. Defence Minister of ROK, Mr. Jeong Kyeongdoo visited India from 04-07 Feb 2020. Mr. Suh Wook, Minister of National Defence visited India from 25-27 Mar 2021 and inaugurated Korea-India Friendship Park at New Delhi. ROK President Moon Jae-in visited India in July 2018 and held meeting with PM Narendra Modi. In a joint statement the two leaders agreed to explore further possibilities to coordinate efforts in the defence and strategic spheres in order to benefit from each other’s unique capabilities and experience and in this context agreed to enhance military exchange, training and experience sharing, Research & Development and to enhance defence industry cooperation.
6. The two countries have instituted several forums for regular interaction between the two Ministries of Defence. The Defence Policy Dialogue (DPD) instituted at the level of Deputy Minister in 2013, has since been upgraded to the level of Defence Secretary and will now be a part of '2+2 Dialogue', between the two sides. Joint Committee Meeting (JCM), a bilateral dialogue for cooperation in defence industries & logistics, between Minister DAPA and Secretary (DP) is held every year. A total of nine JCMs have been conducted since 2005. The last JCM was held in ROK on 18 Oct 2021 on the sidelines of ADEX 2021. Steering Committee Meeting (SCM) is a bilateral dialogue for joint defence R&D between DRDO & DAPA / ADD (ROK). A total of four SCMs have since been held with the 4th one held at Seoul in Dec 2017.
7. Bilateral Maritime cooperation has been one of the vibrant aspects of our defence & security relations. Navy and Coast Guard ships have been visiting each other’s ports on a regular basis and have also been holding joint exercises. In 2017, three ROK Navy ships visited Indian ports and held exercises with the Indian Navy, while ICG Ship “SHAURYA” visited ROK. In April 2018, one KCG ship visited India and participated in SAREX-18, conducted by ICG. Indian Navy Ships INS KOLKATA and INS SHAKTI visited ROK from 28 Apr to 01 May 2019 and participated Training Exercise. ROK Navy Ships ROKS Munmu, The Great and ROKS Hwacheon visited Mumbai from 25 Sep to 27 Sep 2019. Indian Naval Ship ‘Kiltan’, visited Busan, ROK from 26-28 Jun 2021. The last High Level Meeting (10th HLM) between the ICG and KCG was held at KCG HQs, Songdo, ROK on 26 Mar 2019. During meeting, the two Coast Guards agreed for increased exchanges including Ship rider program. KCG has recently participated in Working Level Meeting for HACGAM conducted by ICG from 01 to 04 Aug 2022 in New Delhi.
8. There have been regular and active exchanges of bilateral visits by delegations from various military training establishments that include the National Defence College (NDC), Higher command and management courses and training centre for United Nations Peace Keeping Operations. ROK has officers attending the NDC & the Defence Services Staff College in India while Indian officers are attending courses in Korea National Defence University & Joint Forces Military University.
9. India & ROK signed an ‘Implementation Arrangement’ on Military Education on 05 Sep 2019 during visit of Hon’ble RM to ROK to streamline and enhance reciprocal participation in military courses. Based on the anticipated utilization, the reciprocal arrangement of Implementation Agreement on Military Education Exchange Program has been agreed by both the sides.
Defence Industry Cooperation
10. Defence Industries Cooperation is the mainstay of Strategic Cooperation between the two countries. This vital aspect is critical to military requirements, where ROK retains not only the requisite technology, distinct cost advantage, capacity to absorb capital investment, but also the political will to share threshold technology with India under the ambit of 'Make in India' initiative. Complementing the same, India has appetite for capacity building, vast market, capital, resources and most of all the intent to grow as manufacturing hub. A Roadmap for Defence Industries Cooperation was signed between the two countries in Sep 2019.
11. The requisite impetus to India-South Korea defence and strategic collaboration was delivered during PM Modi’s visit to Seoul in February 2019. India and Korea are expanding their cooperation in the defence and security sectors. On comprehensive review of the defence relations, both countries signed multiple agreements extending from logistic support to information exchanges pertaining to operational matters. It is a clear manifestation of deepening strategic partnership between India and ROK. The two countries have developed a roadmap that will further strengthen India-South Korea defence industry collaboration.