Project remains mired in environmental issues as well as livelihood concerns of farmers

South Korean President Park Geun-hye will arrive here this week on a largely symbolic visit, during which there will not be much for Seoul to cheer on its wish-list of disentangling the multibillion dollar Posco project in Odisha and allotment of a nuclear park to Korea Electric Company on the lines of the ones given to U.S., French and Russian nuclear power companies.

More important, according to officials, is the timing of her visit, beginning Wednesday. Normally, first-year South Korean presidential visits are earmarked for close and important partners such as the U.S., Russia, China and Japan. Ms. Park was elected in April last year.

The civil nuclear agreement with South Korea took the shortest time — a couple of rounds of negotiations. The first time South Korea broached the subject officially was during a 2012 meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Ms. Park’s predecessor, Lee Myun Bak.

But India has signalled that it would first favour a technology demonstrator unit because the Department of Atomic Energy is unfamiliar with the Korean design.

Although the Posco steel plant has been cleared by the Environment Ministry, its proposed captive port and other infrastructure projects still do not have a go-ahead.

Sources said South Korea may not push for the project too hard, having realised the complexities during the 2010 visit by Mr. Lee, who had to be content with being the chief guest at Republic Day celebrations and was forced to cancel his visit to Odisha to inaugurate the Posco plant.

Defence ties

However, despite these two non-starters on the economic side, security and defence relationship has been developing steadily. New Delhi and Seoul have now posted defence attaches in each other’s countries and India is poised to make the first purchase of South Korean military equipment in the form of minesweepers.

Official sources have in the past mentioned about the interest shown by Japanese shipbuilders to align with Indian companies to meet the demands of the shipping industry as well as the Indian Navy.

Balance of trade

In view of the heavily tilted balance of trade in Seoul’s favour, India is keen on faster entry for its pharmaceutical and IT companies.

However, on the political side, diplomats of South Korea confess to a few misgivings about India’s approach to its arch-rival North Korea.

Unexplained trips by senior Indian diplomats and the lack of a commentary on them in the Indian media have fuelled suspicions in Seoul about the purpose of the visits.

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