S. Korean president keen on civil n-power cooperation with India


New Delhi : South Korea is looking for cooperation in civilian nuclear power with India which could be a “productive” sector for collaboration, visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said here Monday.

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“In my talk with (External Affairs) Minister (S.M.) Krishna, I boasted of the efficiency and productivity of the Korean nuclear industry. I told him that we are global competitors,” Lee said in his keynote address to a joint business meeting with the apex chambers of commerce here.

Lee, who is this year’s chief guest at Republic Day celebrations, arrived in India Sunday afternoon in Chennai. He began his Delhi leg with a ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapati Bhawan and met with the External Affairs minister S.M. Krishna.

Nuclear power accounts for nearly 45 percent of South Korea’s total electricity consumption. While it has set up a strong domestic industry during the past three decades, South Korea has only recently had a grand coming out on the international scene, when it bagged a $20 billion contract to set up four nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE contract was a prestige contract for Lee, who had even travelled to UAE to signal his political backing to a Korean consortium, comprising of public and private companies.

Sixty eight-year-old Lee, who had worked in the Hyundai group for 30 years, was particularly persuasive, citing his personal attachment to the nuclear industry. “I know about the quality of the Korean industry, as I had been personally involved in the first and second nuclear power plants,” he said.

Lee was the chairman of Hyundai construction, before he left business to join politics in the early nineties.

Now, with their spectacular entry into the international nuclear market, Korea is looking to countries like India to expand its exports of nuclear technology.

“I am sure this will be a very productive section for cooperation,” he asserted.

India, an energy-deficit nation, has already signed several civil nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries, including United States, France, Russia and Kazakhstan, as it hopes to ramp up its nuclear power industry and aims to increase production to 60,000 megawatt over the next two decades.

Lee, who had earlier visited India in 2007 as Mayor of Seoul, said that he had been an early advocate for a comprehensive economic partnership agreement, which was finally signed in August 2009.

He said with the Indian economy on a firm ground, India was likely to lead the recovery in Asia and the world. He also urged the Indian corporate groups to look at South Korea for investment, which is likely to see a growth of over 5 percent this year.

“There are complementarities between the two economies which should be explored,” he said.

India-South Korea trade stood at $16 billion in 2008, with several Korean companies having created strong consumer brands in India over the years. Korea’s Posco group was also likely to have the largest foreign direct investment of $12 billion to construct a steel plant in Orissa.

Lee said that his “vision was to upgrade and elevate” relations between the two major Asian economies. He pointed out that both countries will be upgrading bilateral relations to a “strategic partnership”.

The Korean president said that his country had an “open mind” over India’s aspirations in East Asia. “We welcome India’s expanded role and increasing influence in East Asia,” he said.