Lee Joon-gyu (60 yrs) is a seasoned diplomat. Immediately after he completed his Masters in Law from Seoul National University, Korea, in February 1979, Joon-gyu passed his High Diplomatic Service Examination and joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in his country. Thereafter, he has represented Korea at the United Nations, Malaysia, Japan, China and New Zealand. In August 2012 he assumed charge as his country's Ambassador to India.
During his career he was also director, international trade, MOFA.
As a diplomat, he is only too aware that his role is to strengthen diplomatic ties between South Korea and India, but also ensure that these are buttressed by cultural and business ties.
And during the past decade, Korea has notched up some significant successes in India, even though it has seen some of its projects (Posco in Odisha is one example) plagued by delays.
He agreed to an exclusive interview by R.N.Bhaskar, and given below are the edited excerpts:
It was heartening to see that one of the most sophisticated thermal power projects in India, set up by Tata Power at Mundra (Gujarat), opted for Korean (Doosan) turbines and generators. Do you expect Korea to play an increasingly successful role in the rest of India's power industry?
Joon-gyu: In addition to what you correctly mentioned, Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction also won a $520 million contract in 2012 to build the steam generator and boiler for the NTPC-Lara power plant at Chhattisgarh. Doosan is a globally well-known company for its expertise and performance in the power industry. KEPCO Plant Services & Engineering also recently won a $180 million order to operate and repair a thermal power plant in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, and plans to actively expand its business further. I expect Korean companies, including Doosan and KEPCO KPS, to contribute a great deal in developing electricity infrastructure and improving the power sector in India.
Do you think that the recent environmental clearances announced by the central government for Korean and other units will encourage more Korean companies to invest in India?
It surely is a positive development. But we cannot be sure that with only that measure, delayed projects can now go on stream. Many other hurdles – including never-ending complaints and law-suits raised by various NGOs – still remain. My suggestion is that the success of mega projects like POSCO's would have a great positive impact. They should be monitored directly by the PMO (prime minister's office)
Some of the key industries/sectors that have been flagged as priority projects by the Indian government are shipbuilding and ports, airports, railways, and new cities. Which are the segments that you think Korea could be interested in?
I think they are interested in almost all these segments. During the phone conversation with President Park (of Korea) in July this year, the Indian Prime Minister sought Korean investment in India's infrastructure projects. I believe that there is enormous scope for cooperation in all these areas. I am encouraging Korean companies to be more proactive in this sector. We have a proposal pending for building eight minesweepers for India in the defence and shipping sectors. We are waiting for the final green signal. We would like to build big Korean ships in India as well.
What are the things you think should be done to make Koreans more interested in India?
I believe that strong economic reforms, infrastructure development and business friendly policies pursued by the new government have already spurred some positive effects. But they are not enough. Koreans want to see things really move. They want to see real outcomes. They want success stories in India.
The manufacturing sector was the first major engine of growth for Korea during the 1970s and the 1980s helping Korea industrialise rapidly. The (new) Indian government's policy of boosting the manufacturing sector is quite right, and timely. Korean companies can play a substantial role in helping India achieve these goals. We are now concentrating on bringing Korean manufacturing SMEs (small & medium enterprises) into India. As I said before, they all are looking forward to hearing success stories of Korean majors in India. The more the success stories, the keener will be their desire to come to India.