President Ma Ying-jou’s (馬英九) stopover in Mumbai, India, on his way to Africa reflected substantial progress in Taiwan-India relations amid the development of peaceful cross-strait ties, academics in India said yesterday.
Ma’s plane landed yesterday morning at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai for refueling and then continued to Africa where Ma will visit Burkina Faso, the Gambia and Swaziland — all diplomatic allies.
The flight was scheduled to refuel in Dubai and the change to India was only announced at the last minute.
China affairs experts in India said it was not surprising that India agreed to the refueling stop, given that relations across the Taiwan Strait are at their warmest for 60 years.
The Ma administration’s cross-strait policy has resulted in reduced tensions between Taiwan and China, which had a knock-on effect on New Delhi’s policy -toward Taipei, said Srikanth Kondapalli, director of the Centre for East Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Ma’s efforts included his push for closer cross-strait economic ties, allowing independent Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan and signing the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China, Kondapalli said.
However, Madhu Bhalla, a professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Delhi, said India is changing course in foreign policy and is willing to adopt different measures — “even if those measures make China unhappy.”
For example, India has entered the fray in the South China Sea dispute, infuriating Beijing, by agreeing in October last year to undertake joint exploration in the area with Vietnam oil exploration, she said.
India’s decision to allow Ma to transit in Mumbai, a city that is not the political capital of the nation, reflected New Delhi’s flexible foreign policy toward Taiwan, and its understanding that stronger ties with Taiwan is in India’s interest, Bhalla said.
“Why go against India’s interests to accommodate Beijing’s demands?” she said.
B.R. Deepak, an associate professor at the Centre of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said Taiwan and India have made significant progress over the past year, with collaborative ventures in the fields of education, economics and culture.
In addition, India hosted several Taiwanese delegations last year, many of them high-ranking officials who met with “people they wanted to meet,” he said.
The Taiwanese officials included then-deputy minister of foreign affairs Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡); then-minister of education Wu Ching-ji (吳清基); and then-head of the Council for Economic Planning and Development Christina Liu (劉憶如), Deepak said.
Former Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam also visited Taiwan in December 2010.
New Delhi’s consent to Ma’s stopover signified “India’s wish to expand exchanges with Taiwan in various sectors and to further bilateral relations,” Deepak said.
He also echoed Bhalla’s view, saying that Indian foreign policy has become more “assertive” in the face of pressure.
However, the Indian China affairs experts all stressed that New Delhi’s move did not violate its longstanding observance of the “one China” policy.
Fang Tien-sze (方天賜), a visiting assistant professor at National Tsing Hua University’s Graduate Institute of Sociology and a former official at Taiwan’s representative office in India, said Ma’s stopover in India was of historical significance because he is the only Taiwanese president ever to have set foot in India.