India is somewhat peripheral to the Taiwan issue. Part of it is distance, but part is also policy based on carefully weighing India’s interests. Not surprisingly, New Delhi made no comment either way on the recent visit of US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the island republic.
But India has to understand that Taiwan is the real focus of the American Indo-Pacific strategy. The South China Sea issue pales into insignificance compared to the complexity and consequences of the Taiwan issue. Here, India does have a large supporting role in the broader issue of constraining China.
India has to understand that Taiwan is the real focus of the American Indo-Pacific strategy. It does have a large supporting role in the broader issue of constraining China.
The two primary countries that need to offer a credible posture relating to China over Taiwan are the US and Japan.
Were a cross-strait conflict to erupt pitting the US, Japan and Australia against China, it would pose a dilemma for the fourth member of the Quad, India.
India has followed a One China policy from the outset; indeed, it was one of the first countries to recognise the People's Republic of China (PRC). But over time, there has been a steady enhancement of the relationship with Taiwan.
India has its own vulnerabilities and it's only under extreme circumstances that it will play a larger political role in Taiwan.
Taiwan Crisis Is Made Up of 3 Factors
The two primary countries that need to offer a credible posture relating to China over Taiwan are the US and Japan. India may not have a dog in the race, but New Delhi realises that the best way of constraining China in a manner that does not result in a devastating war is to be part of a united front that makes it obvious to Beijing that any showdown over Taiwan may result in a price that it may not find acceptable.
The crisis in US-China relations is just beginning. There are both risks and opportunities for India. The growing danger of war over Taiwan is real, but we cannot be sure of the nature of the war – whether it will be short and sharp, or whether like the Ukraine war, it will be prolonged.
The current Taiwan crisis is a product of three factors. First, Taiwan has become more democratic and more important to the world economy. Second, China has become more agressive. This leads to the third factor: the US underscoring its support for the island republic and, unlike the case of Ukraine, US President Biden has thrice allegedly misspoken to say that the US would go to war to defend Taiwan. Beijing knows well that any attack on the island would commit it to war with the US and possibly Japan, and hence the need for all of us to handle things with caution.
We should be clear that the notion of “one China” can be upheld only if the People’s Republic conducts its Taiwan policy peacefully; all bets should be off if there is any attempt to militarily occupy the island.
Taiwan may not be a member of the United Nations, but the idea of using military power for any other purpose than self-defence is, or should be reprehensible in this day and age.
India & Taiwan's Growing Ties
India has followed a One China policy from the outset; indeed, it was one of the first countries to recognise the People's Republic of China (PRC) and adopt the one-China policy. But over time, there has been a steady enhancement of the relationship with Taiwan, in some measure arising from the estrangement with the People’s Republic. Our ties now encompass trade and incorporate the educational opportunities for Indians wanting to study the Chinese language and track developments in China.
In recent years, as New Delhi has looked eastward and Taipei has looked southwards, the two have begun to meet more frequently. India established the India-Taipei Association (ITA), which serves as a de facto embassy in 1995, the same year in which Taiwan set up its Taipei Economic and Cultural Center (TECC) in New Delhi.
There is also a linkage of sorts between India’s approach towards Tibet and Taiwan, both of which are claimed by Beijing as inalienable parts of China. From 2008 onwards, India stopped making the routine endorsement that it “recognised the Tibet Autonomous Region as a part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China”. From 2010 onwards, joint statements also stopped repeating that its “one China policy remained unaltered”. This was also around the time that India and Taiwan eased visa requirements and recognised each other’s degrees. Former President APJ Abdul Kalam also visited Taiwan and, in turn, India hosted several senior leaders of the Taiwan Democratic Progressive Party, including its then-chairperson, Tsai Ing-wen.
There was a subtle statement made by the incoming Modi government in 2014. For his inaugural ceremony, the new Prime Minister invited Lobsang Sangay, head of the Central Tibetan Administration, and Chung Kang Teng, the head of the TECC.
In October 2021, the TECC head paid a visit to Dharamshala to call on the head of the CTA, or the Tibetan Government in Exile. Modi had been one of the few Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders who had visited Taiwan as the General Secretary of the BJP in 1999 and he had, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, actively courted Taiwanese businessmen.
India & China Have Their Own Tensions
In 2018, the two countries signed an updated bilateral investment agreement to expand trade and economic ties. But the big shift came in 2020 following the Chinese occupation of certain border areas in eastern Ladakh. India chose a senior diplomat to become the de facto envoy in Taipei, and two BJP MPs virtually attended the swearing-in of President Tsai Ing-wen’s second term. In February 2021, the two sides began negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement, with a special emphasis on developing India as a semiconductor hub. But the real crunch lies ahead when – and if – India and Taiwan have to register the agreement with the WTO.
Can New Delhi play a larger political role in Taiwan? That is a million-dollar question. The Chinese neuralgia visible after the Pelosi visit suggests that this is a course that India will only play under some extreme circumstances. This is because of two vulnerabilities. The first is the 4,000- km disputed border in the north where there could be retaliatory action. The second is Jammu & Kashmir where formally, so far, at least, the Chinese take the stand that it is a dispute that India and Pakistan need to resolve through dialogue.
The Chinese could retaliate to a changed Indian position on Taiwan by openly supporting Pakistan, or, for that matter, an independent Kashmir.
There is, of course, the added complication that Taiwan does not recognise India’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh and had formally objected in 1987 when India conferred statehood on the erstwhile North East Frontier Agency (NEFA). Indeed, a lot of Chinese claims on the border and in the South China Sea were initially proposed by the Chiang Kai-shek regime, which founded Taiwan.
India Can Face a Dilemma If Things Escalate
The relations between Taiwan and China are complex; the latter is Taiwan’s largest trading partner, and the Taiwanese have invested a massive $198.3 billion in China. Like many other countries, China is dependent on high-quality semiconductors produced in Taiwan. A stable and peaceful relationship between the two is of benefit to China.
Were a cross-strait conflict to erupt pitting the US, Japan and Australia against China, it would pose a dilemma for the fourth member of the Quad, India. New Delhi could end up being part of an informal blockade by American allies such as the UK, Australia, and France. You can be sure that such a conflict would be devastating for the world economy, and the worst-hit country, besides Taiwan, could be China itself.
(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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