Nihar K Kulkarni
The complications between India and China on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) have risen for the past few years. There have been thirteen border talks between India and China. It also seems that both nations have lost confidence in each other and going through a challenging phase. Trade was one of the factors that raised hopes for improved bilateral relations between the two Asian giants. However, the situation has become much more critical. Hedge of COVID-19 virus, Beijing’s growing movements in the Indian ocean, enhancement in military aid to Pakistan, Chinese naval operations in the South China Sea, and violations of international laws are incrementally recognized as hegemonic, causing negative sentiments across various countries, including India. This raises the question whether India should rethink its adherence to ‘One China policy. Against such a backdrop, India has to reconsider its ‘One China’ policy and repurpose its relationship with Taiwan. To deter and stop China’s behavior, India has to work on several levels on the international stage, whether political, economic, military, or diplomatic.
Under the ‘One China’ principle, India cannot establish political and diplomatic relations with China and Taiwan at the same time. But it allows it to continue economic and cultural ties with the latter. China considers Taiwan an integral part of its territory and has resolutely referred to ‘safeguarding the unification of motherland’ as its military duty. On this background, both the nations have advanced their trade, cultural and educational ties by establishing economic and cultural representative offices at both ends. ‘Taipei Economic and Cultural Center’ in India operates in New Delhi and Chennai, managing trade and other relations.
India’s ties with Taiwan have enhanced since. Many more students from India are going to Taiwan for higher education by receiving Taiwanese scholarships. There has also been a dramatic increase in tourism. Also, both India and Taiwan have established significant cooperation agreements in trade and technology fields. In 2000, trade between the two nations was 1 billion US$, which has now reached 7.5 billion US$ in 2019 (Gulf Today 2019). Such progress with Taiwan is admirable, but India still does not acknowledge Taiwan’s political status as a separate country.
As an extended neighbor, Taiwan needs to become an essential partner of India’s ‘Act East Policy’ in the Indo-Pacific region. At present, the geopolitical concept of free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific is gaining significant popularity and acceptance. Against this momentum, relations with Taiwan need to be strengthened. Taiwan’s achievements in information and communication technology can assist boost India’s economic and cyber security and send a strategic signal to Beijing at the same time. The stronger ties between the two will equally resolve many developmental issues. The global community has seen how Taiwan handled the situation in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and reached out to the local population by arranging appropriate healthcare facilities.
On the other end, China has long utilized Pakistan via military aid, economic assistance, and nuclear capacity building and intimidated New Delhi with military standoffs across the border and increased naval operations in the Indian Ocean. It has shown opposition to declare Masood Azhar an international terrorist, denied India’s membership in the NSG (Nuclear supplier group), and interfered in conflict-ridden domestic areas. Given this unreciprocated behavior, it is crucial for India to review the ‘One China policy promise. Taiwan is a democratic country (considers itself a country), and its system of governance differs from China. In the future, India needs to show the same political diplomacy in Taiwan’s case as it did concerning Israel.
Until 1992, India did not also recognize Israel politically. The main reason was that recognizing Israel at the diplomatic level would damage relations with Arab nations. But in 1992, India gave not only political recognition to Israel but also established peaceful and healthy relations with Arab nations over time. At the Global level and in bilateral discussions, India loudly stated its political position from time to time. “In the context of Israel-Palestine, India-Israel relations are close, but when it comes to differences between the two nations Israel and Palestine, India has shown its support to the cause of Palestine. However, India has maintained peace with Israel too”. In this context, the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018 to Palestine and Israel at the same time has gained importance on a global level. It has set a new paradigm shift in India’s foreign policy towards Israel, Palestine, and West Asia. He said, “for India, the relations with Israel have great importance, but at the same time India respects the sentiments of Palestine.”
In 2019, during his lecture titled ‘An assessment of the Post-Modi-Xi Summit: India-China relations and the role of Taiwan’ at the department of the Defence and Strategic Studies, Pune University, a professor from Taiwanese university; mentioned that, “Taiwan has political expectations from India. But India is not ready to move beyond trade and cultural relations”. He also stated,
“In Asia, China will not allow any nation to rise, that is China’s role, so they will never let India rise.”
A former Indian ambassador to China also advised on the same line, “India’s relationship with Taiwan needs to be more and more strong. Not only do political relations need to be established, but economic and cultural relations also need to be enhanced. Because the relationship with Taiwan is troubling to China. It can be used as a ‘Diplomatic Punching’ against China. Issues in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet are equally needed to be raised and discussed openly against China”.
Lieutenant General (Retd) Dr. Dattatraya B Shekatkar, who has served in the Indian Army for nearly 40 years and participated in various negotiations with China, has also said,
“India should give political recognition to Taiwan; it should have done this much earlier. Taiwan’s geographical location has strategic importance. India should step forward and ask the United States to recognize Taiwan. In 1971, India fought a war with Pakistan, and Bangladesh became independent. At the same time, India asked Bhutan to give political recognition to Bangladesh. Similarly, India should ask China and Taiwan’s neighbors to give political recognition to Taiwan. After 1949, China seized a large area like Tibet; they also changed their position concerning Hong Kong. In the same way, China will take Taiwan. Therefore, it is important to recognize Taiwan at the right time “.(Shekatkar 2020)
Referring to the ‘One China policy, he said, “The ‘One China’ policy is fine enough. China will be one. India will not say that China should be dismembered. India should take the position that China is a single and independent nation. ‘China is China’ and ‘Taiwan is Taiwan’ but ‘Taiwan is not China,’ India needs to take such a firm role. (Shekatkar, 2020) Strategically, Indian political thoughts have taught us to have good relations with the neighboring nations of the enemy or whom we consider our enemy. Thus, it is important to have good relations with Taiwan. With the same view, we must play our political and diplomatic role. India should not think about what will China think, because China does what it wants to do”. (Shekatkar, 2020). Before India gives political and diplomatic recognition to Taiwan, there should not be any objection in signaling to China as Prime Minister Narendra Modi did with Pakistan by mentioning Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir during his address to the nation on India’s independence day.
India-Taiwan relationship has a greater and strategic future ahead. It has significant potential to co-operate in the health, trade, cyber, economic, education, tourism sectors. For such considerable enhancement in the relationship, the government-to-government relationship is essential to boost the connection up to the strategic level. Another critical point is that India’s political recognition of Taiwan should be based on Taiwan’s own merits on democratic values, trade, economy, and technology. The notion of ‘China Versus Taiwan’ or ‘Taiwan-India cooperation to counter China’ must be avoided. Seeing India’s increasing interest in the Indo-Pacific region, reaching a consensus on Taiwan will undoubtedly help strengthen India’s position and status in the region.
The author is a Ph.D. candidate at the Doctoral School of Social Sciences, University of Warsaw, Poland. His area of interest involves India’s national security, foreign policy, and the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region.