Rup Narayan Das

A careful observation reveals India’s nuanced outreach towards Taiwan in recent times after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. It is not widely known that Modi had visited Taiwan way back in 1999 as general secretary of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is now in power and had hosted a big Taiwanese business delegation to Gujarat in 2011 when he was the chief minister of the state. China Steel Corporation (CSC), a steel major of Taiwan, signed an agreement with the Gujarat government in 2012 to set up an electrical steel plant at Dahej in Gujarat at the cost of 178 million US$.

Constraints of ‘One China Policy’

India does not accord diplomatic recognition to Taiwan because of its ‘One China Policy’. This is a policy that India has been following since 30 December 1949 when it withdrew recognition to the Republic of China (Taiwan) and accorded recognition to the People’s Republic of China which was born on 30th October 1949. However, there have been simultaneous engagement with Taiwan in terms of trade and people-to-people contacts within the framework of ‘One China Policy’. In 1992, Taiwan’s External Trade Development Council, a semi-official institution affiliated to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, set up a Taiwan Trade Centre in Mumbai as a liaison office in charge of promoting trade with India.

A more comprehensive relationship was achieved in 1995 when Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre (TECC) was set up in New Delhi to provide consular services and to facilitate other functions similar to an embassy. India also established the India-Taipei Association (ITA) as an equivalent institution in Taipei. Taipei has been able to appoint career diplomats to India from the beginning, but given the fact that Indian government considers its relationship with Taiwan as ‘unofficial’, Taiwan’s diplomats in New Delhi had limited access to Indian government. Despite such difficulties, TECC has been serving as a formal representation of Taiwan’s government in India [i].

The Growing Political Convergence

India is, however, slowly shedding its hesitancy to reach out to Taiwan. India and Taiwan moved closer to each other after the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) returned to power in 2016 and unfurled its “New Southbound Policy” with India as a target country. In a significant development between the two democracies, a delegation including three Taiwanese legislators, academics and business members visited India in February 2017. During the visit, the delegation articulated that Taiwan’s independence was an international reality. The visit riled China. India downplayed the visit and said that the visit was non-political. The statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs said there was nothing new or unusual about such visits and political meaning should not be read into them.

A December 2018 report of the Parliamentary  Committee of External Affairs, headed by the ace Parliamentarian Dr Shashi Tharoor in the wake of the June 2017 Doklam incident, presented,

“…It comes as a matter of concern to the Committee that even when India is overly cautious about China’s sensitivities while dealing with Taiwan and Tibet, China does not exhibit the same deference while dealing with India’s sovereignty concerns, be it in the case of Arunachal Pradesh or that of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). Given the fact of China’s muscular approach of late while dealing with some of the issues pertaining to India, it is difficult for the Committee to be content with India’s continuing with its conventionally differential foreign policy towards China. Dealing with China essentially requires a flexible approach. The Committee strongly feel that the Government should contemplate using all options including its relations with Taiwan, as part of such an approach.” [ii]

In yet another instance, two senior members of Parliament belonging to the ruling BJP participated in the virtual inauguration of President Tsai Ing-wen’s second term in May 2020. In their congratulatory message the senior legislators highlighted that ‘India and Taiwan shared democratic values’.

Diplomatic Overtures

In diplomatic posturing on 3rd April, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) of the government of India offered condolences to Taiwan over a major train accident in Taiwan killing 51 people. The MEA tweeted, “we are deeply saddened by the loss of so many lives in the railway accident in Taiwan. Our deepest condolences to the families, and our prayers for the early recovery of the injured.” Taiwan foreign ministry thanked India in very thoughtful words “for the expression of sentiment and support and said this genuinely friendly gesture will touch the people and bring Taiwan and India closer in a real and lasting manner.”

Yet in another smart diplomatic move, India reached out to Paraguay, one of the fourteen countries maintaining diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and not China, when India sent 100,000 doses of Covaxin vaccines for COVID-19. Taipei expressed its gratitude for the thoughtful gesture of India. In a goodwill gesture, Taiwan also sent essential medical supplies to India to help mitigate the pandemic crisis in the country in April last year during the peak of the pandemic. The media in India, both print and electronic, are supportive of Taiwan which is evident from editorials, news coverage, and articles. In an editorial in the largest circulated English daily, The Times of India pleaded that New Delhi ‘should boost ties with Taipei not just because of China threat. There are other benefits.’

Meanwhile, educational cooperation with Taiwan is also increasing. The Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), the premier government-funded social science research institute recently signed an agreement with Taiwan for joint research collaboration between Indian and Taiwan universities/institutes and their Indian counterparts.

Making Headways?

What can be a game-changer in the relationship between India and Taiwan is the possible collaboration in the field of manufacturing semiconductors in India and the initiation to sign a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two. It was reported that the two sides have set up four groups last year that are focusing on creating a semiconductor manufacturing hub, education and training of highly specialized manpower needed for the industry ( presumably semiconductor), a bilateral investment agreement, and  FTA. While it will take some time for these proposals to fructify, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. has spent US$ 350 million on a subsidiary in India which is soon to begin manufacturing of iPhone 13. Hon Hai, known internationally as Foxconn Technology has invested US$350 million in Foxconn Hon Hai Technology India Mega Development Private Ltd as part of long-term development in India.

Conclusion

India has been reticent to engage with Taiwan overtly, which seems to be changing in recent times. India, however, needs to scale up its engagements with Taiwan and revisit, not abrogate its ‘One China Policy’. It should also allow Parliamentarians’ and senior officials’ engagement with Taiwan. Manufacturing of semiconductors requires the creation of a conducive enabling echoed system which needs to be expeditiously developed.

The author is a Delhi-based China scholar, currently working as a Senior Fellow at the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), New Delhi. He has been awarded the Taiwan Fellowship 2022. Views are personal.

References

[1] Mu-Min Chen, “Political Relations” in Research Report on Taiwan-India Relations, Taipei-Asia Exchange Foundation, February 2029, p.52,

[1] Twenty-Second Report, Committee on External Affairs (2017-18), Lok Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi,p.8, http://164.100.47.193/lsscommittee/External%20Affairs/16_External_Affairs_22.pdf

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