India must engage with Taiwan, and not just because of China | Opinion
Taiwan is celebrating India, and making an effort to win the hearts of the Indian community. This was manifested in Taiwan’s ministry of foreign affairs’ first-ever public celebration of Diwali at the Taipei Guest House on November 13. This was in response to the appreciation Taiwan has got from India over the last couple of months. Its Covid-19 success has generated curiosity about Taiwan in India. The India-China standoff and China’s disregard for India’s territorial sovereignty and integrity has also contributed to this mutual appreciation and realisation of the need to urgently step up bilateral relations.
This realisation is, however, more at the level of civil society than the State on the Indian side. Considering several diplomatic and strategic constraints, the scope for elevation in India-Taiwan ties has remained limited. The China factor has loomed large. Even though India has stopped mentioning its adherence to OneChina policy in joint statements and official documents since 2010, its engagement with Taiwan is still restricted due to the framework of ties with China.
Foregoing relations with Taiwan for the hope of managing tensions with China has yielded little result. China’s aggression at the border front, its decades-old “all-weather friendship” with Pakistan including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and denying New Delhi entry at the international platforms are examples of its uncompromising stance towards India. It is not surprising that China has not respected India’s clearly articulated sensitivities on these issues.
India is an important part of the Indo-Pacific region, and it is natural for India to collaborate with like-minded countries to pursue common interests. On the one hand, China has emerged as a security concern for India, and, on the other, Taiwan is willing to partner with major stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific to ensure regional stability and peace. Taiwan’s inclusion and participation in the Indo-Pacific is significant, and should be promoted by all major stakeholders. It is a fallacy to assume that the Indo-Pacific is solely designed to contain China. This notion of Taiwan versus China should be changed and Taiwan’s participation should be seen as a stabilising factor.
While a concerted policy is required for ensuring Taiwan’s inclusion in the Indo-Pacific, India should be more forthcoming towards Taiwan. China has clearly violated the Panchsheel Agreement by repeatedly raising the issue of India’s Jammu and Kashmir. It is interfering in India’s domestic politics, and dictating how India should handle its foreign relations. China cannot have a say in how India wishes to engage with other partners such as Taiwan.
Taiwan’s growing popularity in India is unprecedented. The Indian government should sense the popular sentiment, and consider a shift in its Taiwan policy. Several steps may be taken. First, initiating trade talks would be a welcome step. Singapore and New Zealand already have Free Trade Agreements with Taiwan. Taiwan is an integral part of the regional supply chain mechanism, and a trade agreement with Taiwan will help India remain connected to the regional economic dynamism, amidst its attempts to de-couple from China.
Second, parliamentary visits should be restored between Taiwan and India. The two countries are vibrant democracies, and parliamentary interactions and visits will strengthen their commitment towards the rule of law and good governance. Third, to have a long-term perspective on the virtues of engaging each other, a policy planning dialogue at the mid-official level may be initiated primarily for information-sharing and dealing with the non-traditional security threats. Fourth, an active exchange of ideas in the health sector will prove beneficial for learning from Taiwan’s Covid-19 experience.
The objective of this deepening engagement is not to field ties with Taiwan as a countermeasure to growing animosity with China, but to de-hyphenate India-Taiwan ties from India-China relations. Taiwan is reaching out to India; India too should reciprocate.
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