Although the visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will skip Orissa, the location of the steel plant that will be its single largest investment ever in India, New Delhi has sent signals that it is committed to the project by giving environmental clearance to part of the land allotted to the company, Posco.

Mr. Lee had wanted his visit to coincide with the beginning of the work on the site but this was not possible due to continuing agitation against land acquisition.

“We are moving ahead with the project. Both the Central and State governments are committed to the project. But we would like to move ahead mush faster,” Gautam Bimbawale, Joint Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs, told newspersons on the state visit which begins on Sunday.

The land being sought by Posco falls in three categories. There is no problem with the government land while the stage II environmental clearance for forest land was given on December 29 last year.

At the heart of public unrest is a “very small” portion (about 500 acres out of the 4,500 acres sought by Posco) of agricultural land owned by about 400 families, Mr. Bimbawale said.

In keeping with India’s bid to develop close economic linkages with East Asia and the key role of South Korea in this endeavour, Mr. Lee has been accorded the honour of being the Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade.

Vast scope

South Korea is already the seventh largest investor in India and most of its chaebols such as Hyundai, Samsung and LG have profitable operations here.

But New Delhi realises that investment by these companies in India is a very small portion of their global operations and there is considerable scope for them to expand their activities.

The two countries will also sign several agreements including in IT and peaceful use of space technologies. The pact in the space sector would build on the decade-long cooperation which included India launching a South Korean satellite in 1999.

Defence ties

India and South Korea are also keen on expanding their defence relationship from the ongoing cooperation in sanitising the sea lanes of communication to army and air force-level interactions and even cooperation in military hardware.

Mr. Lee will arrive in Chennai on Sunday and interact in two sessions with Korean businessmen.

He will leave for the national capital the same evening and begin his official engagements on Monday, including delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Mr. Lee will also attend the traditional ‘At Home’ reception hosted by President Pratibha Patil and leave for Zurich the next day.

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