India-Taiwan relations reach a higher orbit

Incoming President of Taiwan William Lai is known to be favouring a policy of close engagement between India and Taiwan, so that the warming of ties that has been witnessed during the past few years is likely to continue, writes Prof. Madhav Das Nalapat

Incoming President William Lai is known to be favouring a policy of close engagement between India and Taiwan.

Since the 1990s, India has had an interest in better relations with Taiwan, a tech powerhouse of around 26 million that is situated in the eastern waters of the Indo-Pacific. However, absorbed as the island nation was in next-door China, first Japan and later South Korea moved miles ahead of Taiwan, in particular where the economic relationship was concerned.

This was a lost opportunity, for the two economies are complementary in a way that the economies of Japan, the US and South Korea are not. The three are more competitive than complementary where Taiwanese manufacturing is concerned, unlike India. However, the fault for the lag in relations does not exist only on the Taiwanese side.

On the Indian side, elements in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in particular were unaware of the potential of “IT”, an India-Taiwan partnership. Schooled in the Nehruvian tradition of genuflecting to Beijing, for long the MEA was allergic even to the use of the word “Taiwan” in India, fearing that China would be annoyed.

The fact is that the CCP has sought to contain and hurt India and its interests especially since economic reforms were introduced in India in 1992 by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. Even a cursory perusal of the official records from that period would reveal the systematic way in which the PRC sought to damage the Indian interest. Arms sales to Pakistan multiplied several fold, including several advanced weapons such as fighter aircraft, missiles and nuclear technology.

Flouting every canon of international law, the CCP converted Pakistan into a nuclear power, simply to keep India weakened and distracted. Despite such a record, several officials (not just in the MEA but elsewhere in the government) were too afraid of incurring the PRC’s ire by even a small gesture opening the doors to greater cooperation with Taiwan.

As for their fear of having the word “Taiwan” on boards in India, they ignored the fact that in China itself, boards and signs containing the word “Taiwan” are everywhere. The good news is that matters have finally been taken in hand by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, both of whom have broken precedent by openly mentioning Taiwan rather than ignoring the existence of the island nation as was the case during the period in office of their predecessors.

Again in a first, India has joined with the US, Japan and other countries in publicly calling for peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits, as this is essential to the tranquillity and security of the Indo-Pacific. India has opposed the effort of the PRC to pretend as though the ASEAN Sea were part of the PRC rather than being the international waterway it is, just as the Taiwan Straits are.

Given that Taiwan is separate from the PRC, it may be time that Taipei made it clear through new maps that Arunachal Pradesh and other parts of Indian territory are no longer claimed by the Republic of China in the way they are by the People’s Republic of China. Such a step would immensely enhance goodwill in India for Taiwan, as would measures such as both countries introducing Visa on Arrival for tourists from the other.

Buddhism is among the key practised religions in Taiwan, and the Buddhist associations of the country are very powerful there. Just as Buddhism has become a significant link bringing together Japan and India, the great faith introduced by the Buddha can do the same between India and Taiwan.

So can movies from Taiwan be shot in India and vice versa. Another measure would be to set up Taiwan enclaves in different parts of India, where Taiwanese companies could locate offices and do software work in the way companies from other countries do. During 2024, there has been significant forward movement in relations, and technology giants such as TSMC are looking at sourcing back office and design and fabrication work through using the brainpower of young Indians.

Already, Foxconn and other companies have read the tea leaves, and know that the geopolitical fault lines between the PRC and the democracies, particularly the US, are only going to get larger in the future. As a consequence, there is no longer a future in greater levels of high-tech production by Taiwanese companies in the PRC, a situation in which India offers the most cost-effective humanpower-abundant alternative

 Given his transformative foreign policy, carried out by EAM Jaishankar, a quantum rise in Taiwanese investment into India has become politically feasible in a manner that was not the situation in the past, when fear of the PRC reaction prevented even the word “Taiwan” from being uttered by policymakers in the Lutyens Zone.

On the Indian side, what would be desirable would be to ensure that segments within the bureaucratic machinery and outside are not incentivized by CCP networks to hold up or in other ways to slow down progress on the implementation of Taiwanese production units in India. Sabotage through misuse of sections of officialdom had been a common feature of the landscape facing investors in India, but during the past few years, the scale of such activities has significantly diminished.

A few years ago, when PRC elements in a high-tech-enterprise in a southern state made sure that a few labour leaders were incentivised to run riot, the purpose was to ruin the image of India as a secure destination for investment. The Sunday Guardian as well as NewsX discovered and exposed the CCP’s hand in such mischief, and the same needs to be done whenever such networks operate in furtherance of the longstanding effort by the PRC to damage the future of India as an economic powerhouse.

As China Airlines, the official carrier in Taiwan, has both an aircraft as well as a pilot shortage, Air India or Indigo should begin nonstop services from Delhi to Taipei and back at least a few times each week. Traffic between India and Taiwan can only grow. Given its prowess and its demographic profile, Taiwan will need a significant number of workers in various fields of industry, and they will need to be sourced from friendly countries.

As a consequence of the New Southbound Policy initiated by President Tsai, interest and investment in India have risen to unprecedented levels in Taiwan. Incoming President of Taiwan William Lai is known to be favouring a policy of close engagement between India and Taiwan, so that the warming of ties that has been witnessed during the past few years is likely to continue. Both countries would speed their progress along the path of transformation through continuing to strengthen such a partnership in the manner that is being witnessed now.

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