One of the consequences of India’s face-off with China in the Galwan Valley in its Ladakh region last month — Chinese soldiers killed 20 unarmed Indian soldiers with iron rods and clubs studded with iron nails — is that India is upgrading and intensifying its ties with Taiwan. This is reflected, as a first step, in the appointment of a top career diplomat as India’s representative to Taiwan.
Because India and Taiwan do not maintain formal diplomatic ties, due to India’s adherence to a “one China” policy, New Delhi and Taipei use different nomenclatures for their missions.
India’s representation in Taipei is officially known as the India-Taipei Association.
Notwithstanding its “one-China” policy, India is looking at ways to strengthen its ties with Taiwan. India’s new envoy to Taipei, Joint Secretary Gourangalal Das, headed the US division in India’s Ministry of External Affairs and succeeds Sridharan Madhusudhanan, who is also a senior career diplomat
Das’ widely publicized appointment poses a sharp contrast to the quiet appointments of past representatives to Taiwan and comes soon after India’s grueling face-off with China.
Indian politicians and officials are no longer shy of openly calling for intensifying ties with Taiwan, not only in economic and trade terms, but also in cultural and social terms. Technological, medical and scientific cooperation, and tourism are areas both sides could also promote. People-to-people contacts are expected to get a strong boost.
Buddhism and Taoism evoke considerable interest among many Indians who speak of ancient connections with Chinese spiritualism, which is seen as preserved in Taiwan, but suppressed in China.
The killing of 20 soldiers — at a time when Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) conduct was severely criticized in India, as elsewhere in the world, for the scandalous cover-up of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan — has further infuriated Indians, who are urging Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to disregard China’s sensitivity over Taiwan and upgrade ties with the latter.
Das’ appointment demonstrates that India attaches great importance to its ties with Taiwan, which has become a much sought-after economic partner, but also as a source of investment and technology.
Intensifying business ties with Taiwan would also reduce India’s dependence on Chinese electronics and communication supplies.
Taiwan sees India as a key partner in its New Southbound Policy, which focuses on developing its ties with South and Southeast Asia.
It has also appointed a seasoned diplomat, Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Director-General Baushuan Ger (葛葆萱 ) as its new representative to India, replacing Tien Chung-kwang (田中光) who headed the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in India for seven years.
Tien — along with Central Tibetan Administration President Lobsang Sangay, the India-based leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile — was invited, in a rare gesture, to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi as Indian prime minister in 2014.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, asked two of its legislators, Meenakshi Lekhi and Rahul Kaswan, to participate virtually in President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) swearing-in ceremony for her second term on May 30. Expect more such gestures from India.
Das, who is fluent in Mandarin, served at the Indian embassy in Beijing between 2006 and 2009.
Posted later to the Indian embassy in Washington, he played a crucial role in making arrangements for Modi’s visit to the US in June 2017, when he met US President Donald Trump.
During his latest posting at the ministry, Das was also tasked with reviving the quadrilateral mechanism between India, Australia, Japan and the US.
Indian critics are increasingly questioning the relevance and purpose of the adherence to a “one China” policy, which was adopted to appease China.
Beijing’s anti-India stance at the UN, where it has opposed India many times on several issues, including blocking a Pakistan-based militant leader from being designated as terrorists and blacklisted, or opposing India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, has evoked anger and frustration among Indians who want their nation to disregard Chinese sensitivity on a host of issues.
“Why must India always adhere to the ‘one China’ policy when China tries its salami slicing of India’s territorial sovereignty,” said Mahesh Apte, a New York-based political researcher who hails from Mumbai.
India has tried to ignore — if not formally abandon — its “one China” policy.
After the visit of then-Chinese premier Wen Jiaboa’s (溫家寶) to India in December 2010, New Delhi did not mention the policy in the joint communique released after the visit.
The Galwan Valley confrontation has resulted in an outpouring of sympathy for Taiwan. India’s leading newspapers, carrying opinion pieces and editorials, called for supporting Taiwan’s access to UN institutions and giving it observer status at the World Health Assembly.
Many of those articles have criticized India for being “too sensitive and deferential” to China on the Taiwan issue.
An official report by the Indian Parliamentary Standing Committee in 2018 on India-China relations, called for stronger ties with Taiwan. After all, the report said, China itself maintained a huge trading volume with Taiwan.
Many Indian experts are urging their government to collaborate with Taiwan on India’s Indo-Pacific strategic vision, and to not see Taiwan through China’s lens.
Taiwan being one of the first countries to deliver medical equipment to India to combat COVID-19 touched many Indians, while many policymakers and strategists in New Delhi are realizing that China will likely not stop pursuing its salami slicing tactics.
Beijing sees India as a major hindrance to realizing its idea of world domination. India’s refusal to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership were not well received in Beijing, but New Delhi maintains its conviction that membership in these projects would be detrimental to its interests.
Taiwan’s location and its high level of defense preparedness for any untoward development are important security factors in the Indo-Pacific region. It would also be to India’s advantage if it made Taiwan a key partner in its strategy to tackle China.
Manik Mehta is a New York-based journalist who writes on foreign affairs, diplomacy, global economics and international trade.
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