www.southasiamonitor.org | October 11, 2019
After the 2014 general elections in India, the representative of Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre (TECC), Delhi, was invited to the oath-taking ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
After the 2014 general elections in India, the representative of Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre (TECC), Delhi, was invited to the oath-taking ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This was a strong signal, especially to China, and also an indicator of improving Taiwan-India relations. However, for Modi’s swearing-in ceremony after his 2019 election, the TECC representative in India was not invited (India does not officially recognise Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) but allows it to have a representative office in New Delhi), creating some disquiet among the Taiwanese. They felt the reason for the snub was India's tilt towards China after the Wuhan summit. This was not the first time Taiwan has been snubbed by the Indian government and, even though the relationship between India and Taiwan has seen a remarkable improvement in the last few years, it has not reached its potential because of China’s shadow. Before the second informal summit between India and China, being held on October 11-12 at Mamallapuram, there is again some concern among the Taiwanese about where this will take India-Taiwan relations.
"We have no objections for India to make friends with any country in the world, but not at the cost of Taiwan's relations with India. This is something (on which) we are very firm and urging the Indian government," said TECC Representative in India, Chung Kwang Tien. Professor Mumin Chen of the National Chung Hsing University echoes similar thoughts, saying Taiwan does not have issues with India having good relations with China but, at the same time, India should not let that affect its relationship with Taiwan.
Roger Liu, Associate Professor, Flame University, Pune, India points out that the India-China relationship is problematic because of the 1962 war, which could have been avoided if Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had taken another route and not misunderstood the Chinese. Both India and China, he feels, have a lot in common and can work together if territorial issues between them could be resolved. He also feels that India needs China to counter-balance Pakistan and maintain peace in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops. Thus, in future, the world will see more structured, institutionalized India-China relations.
The challenge to Taiwan, however, is the People’s Republic of China’s policy of enhanced people to people contact with India, especially their interactions with think tanks and universities. It is this aspect that Taiwan should work on, as people to people contact forms the base of India-Taiwan relations.
Roberto Lin, from National Chung Hsing University, Taichung, Taiwan, said the first summit was informal, and Doklam was the main issue discussed. He also believes relations have improved between both countries after the 2018 Wuhan summit and China dropping its veto against Pakistani terrorist Masood Azhar was a result of that improved relationship. The second summit, however, would focus more on Kashmir and the US- China trade war.
Analyzing these views, along with interactions in Taiwan, there are some commonalities in the opinions, primarily that the Taiwanese are not worried about improved India-China relations, but they are worried about the effect of those on India-Taiwan relations.
Taiwan attaches great importance to India under its New Southbound Policy and wants to deepen the relationship further across the board at the economic, people to people, education and cultural levels. On India- China relations and the last 70 years of this relationship, they feel it has evolved but there is no trust in the relationship and the border issue is a major irritant.
The Taiwanese are also of the opinion that it is not a mutually beneficial relationship as China is extremely inflexible when it comes to their territorial claims, relationship with Pakistan and efforts to block India at international forums. On the other hand, India follows a policy of appeasement towards China, especially when it comes to Taiwan and Tibet. They quote a report published in 2018 by a Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, which said that “Even when India is overly cautious about China’s sensitivities while dealing with Taiwan and Tibet, China does not exhibit the same deference.” Hence, India should also involve itself more with Taiwan.
The Taiwanese want India to help them in getting access to the World Health Organization and become part of their Indo-Pacific strategy. Even though India might not be able to officially recognize Taiwan as a country, they should recognize it as a vibrant democracy.
(The writer is Research Fellow, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, New Delhi)