The relationship between India and Taiwan has improved significantly in recent times, with the two nations expanding cooperation in various fields, including defense, trade and commerce.
While the relationship can be traced to before India’s independence, bilateral ties between the two nations ceased to exist in 1950 when India accorded diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China.
During the Cold War, the prospect of having even informal ties between New Delhi and Taipei remained remote, as Taiwan joined the US-led bloc and India followed a non-alignment policy.
However, in 1995, India and Taiwan chartered an unofficial relationship with the establishment of the India-Taipei Association (ITA) in Taipei.
In 2002, the directors of the ITA and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center (TECC) signed an agreement on promotion and protection of investments. In 2006, the Taiwan-India Cooperation Council, a private organization, was established in Taipei. The two nations signed a double taxation avoidance agreement and a customs cooperation agreement in 2011.
In 2004, Taiwan began offering Indian students the Taiwan Scholarship and National Huayu Enrichment Scholarship to study Mandarin, and airlines started direct flights between New Delhi and Taipei in 2003.
In 2007, the ITA and the TECC signed a memorandum of understanding on behalf of India’s Department of Science and Technology under the Ministry of Science and Technology and Taiwan’s National Science Council.
When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power, it showed its intent to deepen engagement with Taiwan under its Act East Policy. Consequently, Taiwan’s deputy minister of economic affairs was invited to attend the “Vibrant Gujarat” conference in 2015.
The victory of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in the presidential election in 2016 increased the prospect of cementing ties between the two nations.
Despite China’s objection, the Indian government’s decision to host a delegation of three female Taiwanese lawmakers in February was further seen as a big move toward improving the bond, especially when India-China ties are going through an extremely bad phase.
Of course, both nations have their reasons to accelerate bilateral ties. One area is their bilateral economic and trade engagement.
Trade between the two nations increased from US$1.2 billion in 2000 to US$6 billion in 2016, with nearly 90 Taiwanese companies working in different sectors of the Indian economy, and the Tsai government’s New Southbound Policy, along with the Modi government’s Act East Policy, could play a vital role in deepening economic ties between the two nations.
In August 2015, Taiwan-based Foxconn, one of the largest hardware manufacturers in the world, announced an investment of US$5 billion in India.
Given its huge foreign reserves and expertise in the fields of hardware manufacturing, construction, infrastructure, mine exploration, electronic manufacturing, logistics, automobiles, food processing and others, Taiwan could play a vital role in the success of the Modi government’s “Make in India,” “Digital India” and “Skill India” initiatives.
A pact signed between the two sides in December last year institutionalizing cooperation in areas, including engineering, product manufacturing, and research and development, should further boost their engagement in this field.
For instance, if India’s expertise in software and Taiwan’s expertise in hardware came together, it would be beneficial to both sides.
At the same time, by providing a big market, India could significantly reduce the deepening economic ties between China and Taiwan, a stated goal of the Tsai administration as part of her New Southbound Policy.
Meanwhile, with the use of Taiwan’s agro-technology, India could transform its agriculture sector as well.
With the aim of promoting industrial technical cooperation and business, the two sides last year signed a memorandum of understanding on the promotion of industry collaboration. New Delhi and Taipei have also signed an air services agreement and a memorandum of understanding on agricultural cooperation to boost their bilateral ties in these areas.
Strategically, both nations face security threats from China.
India has a long-standing dispute with China and in recent times Beijing has increased its assertive posturing on Indian territories. Beijing has also expressed its aim of annexing Taiwan militarily.
New Delhi and Taipei also share the common interest of preventing China from making the South China Sea its exclusive zone.
By working together, Taiwan could further consolidate its identity as an independent state and India could strengthen its position in the region.
Taiwan has a better understanding of the People’s Republic of China and is also ready to host Indian military students at its National Defense University. Developing strategic ties with Taiwan could greatly help India understand China’s strategic thinking, thereby improving its own military prowess.
Since the Modi government has attached huge importance to soft diplomacy as a part of India’s foreign policy to achieve its national interests, promoting tourism with Taiwan could also be an attractive way of cementing ties between the two nations, given that Buddhism is the religion of the majority of Taiwanese and India is its homeland.
The one major obstacle that hampers close ties between India and Taiwan is India’s acceptance of the “one China” policy.
However, this should not deter New Delhi from seeking close security and economic ties with Taiwan in the same way that Beijing is expanding its involvement with Islamabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Thus, India should take bold initiatives to reach out to Taiwan.
India should also assert its right to decide the kind of relations it wishes to have with Taiwan if China dictates that India should not deal with Taiwan directly.
As Tsai has announced that relations with India are to be prioritized, it is hoped that India and Taiwan will be able to strengthen their bilateral ties.
Sumit Kumar is a Ministry of Foreign Affairs visiting fellow at National Chengchi University and a research fellow at the Chennai Centre for China Studies.
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