The Indian Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, visited South Korea from 16 to 18 September. Besides bilateral issues, he also discussed the prospect of South Korean support for India in the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs expressed India's expectations of a positive response from South Korea, but no remark on the issue could be further elicited from either party. There is, therefore, apprehension that India could not get any assurance from South Korea. The issue is vital for India as it has to negotiate both bilaterally and multilaterally with each member of the NSG to open their nuclear technology-related exchanges with it.
Although South Korea has not expressed any official view on India's ongoing efforts with the US to conclude a nuclear deal, which would de-facto provide India membership of the elite nuclear club, it has shown displeasure about the process. Recently, the South Korean representative in the Six-Party talks to dismantle the North Korean nuclear weapon programme, Chun Yung-wo, expressed his reservations about the Indo-US negotiations on the deal. He stated that any such deal would in no way be helpful for the global endeavour for nuclear disarmament. Speaking at the function organised by the Donga Ilbo, a Korean language newspaper, he specifically conveyed concern about the impact of the deal on the Six-Party talks to denuclearise North Korea.
Apparently, the remark of the South Korean representative came in an unofficial function and might therefore, be considered as his personal opinion but it is hard to deny that there is genuine concern in South Korea about the deal. Hence, India needs to improve its nuclear diplomacy in support of the Indo-US deal as well to become a more prominent player in Asian geo-politics.
First, it needs to be emphasised not only to South Korea but also to the international community in general, and the members of the NSG in particular, that the Indian nuclear programme has been largely peaceful. Indian willingness to sign the deal with the US is basically an effort to cope with its growing energy demands. Indian nuclear tests, a decade ago, were portrayed as a sign of Indian discontent to convince the international community for a comprehensive test ban treaty. Soon after its nuclear tests, India put a self-moratorium on further tests and came out with its nuclear doctrine which categorically supports the principles of 'no first use' against a nuclear weapon state and 'no use' against any non-nuclear state. India has been a responsible votary of not only nuclear but also general disarmament treaties.
Thus, the context of Indian nuclear programme cannot be compared with any other state. South Korea and the other NSG member states should be briefed on the special context in which India had to resort to nuclear weaponization. South Korea should be convinced of the need to de-hyphenate the nuclear programme of India from the North Korean or of any other country.
Indian diplomacy should also take cognizance of South Korean concerns over its status in changing strategic ecosystem of Asia. There is a sense of uneasiness in South Korea on its status as 'standing on the fence,' 'sandwiched' or 'loner' in the Asian politics. Recently, Newsweek characterised South Korea as an isolated country in Beijing-Washington rivalry. In recent years, South Korea which has been a long time ally of the US finds itself closer to China on many strategic issues of Northeast Asia, such as diplomatic resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue. The South Korean distress is further aggravated by Indian participation in a quadrilateral naval exercise along with the US, Japan and Australia. South Korea has a sense of being 'left-out' in both these key developments of Asian strategic affairs. Seoul, under its official slogan of 'Dynamic Korea,' has not only been able to register its significant economic presence across the globe but there has also been a Korean cultural wave (Hallyu) in the neighbouring countries of Asia. It is therefore, inexplicable why India has not included South Korea in its perception of an emerging and dynamic Asia.
If India wants to garner support from South Korea in the process of placating members of the NSG, it needs to accommodate the subjective perceptions of South Korea along with objective reality of the Asian politics. This is not a difficult task given the evolving non-zero sum game framework of cooperative security in the region. The success of Indian diplomacy lies in addressing such South Korean concerns and working for a more inclusive partnership in Asia. Indian diplomacy should take up these issues to further broaden the acceptance for Indian nuclear status and build a positive image in the emerging new strategic equation of Asia.