India has always kept equal distance from the world’s great powers and does not easily make strategic promises. However, it is willing to support the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy because it has cast its eyes on US and Japanese technology supply chains, with the aspiration to become a manufacturing giant.
India deploys heavily armed troops along its disputed Himalayan border with China and refuses to abandon the key heights it has occupied with the intention of projecting a powerful image. This image is deemed helpful not just because New Delhi aims to take over the supply chains that are withdrawing from China, it also aims to procure from other nations weapons and other military equipment and acquire technology necessary to develop defense autonomy.
It also aims to force the US and Russia to decouple from its age-old foe Pakistan and strengthen its marine power through military agreements.
India does not participate in China’s Belt and Road Initiative and has instead entered into an alliance with Vietnam to ensure unimpeded transportation and maritime safety in the waters between the Andaman Sea in the Indian Ocean and Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay, responding to changing regional circumstances that are to ensue once the Thai Canal project is completed, signaling the beginning of a “post-Malacca” era. India’s state-owned oil enterprise has in the past few years been collaborating with Vietnam on oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea.
Following the military standoff along the Sino-Indian border in June, the Indian Navy deployed its front-line warships in the South China Sea. Low-profile as the deployment is, this could be read as another signal that India is seeking a foothold in the region.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recently been pushing the “Make in India” initiative again, and his administration has announced not to join any trade agreement where China is a member.
All these actions point to the inevitable consequence that India would eventually have to lay its cards on the table with China. For Modi to agree to peace talks with China, Beijing must offer conditions that outweigh the cost of India’s military deployment along the border.
The reason for India’s high military spending along the border is obvious: If China stops providing loans, blocks businesses from moving into India, fails to restrain Pakistan from launching terrorist attacks, hinders India’s marine transportation or infringes upon its interests in the South China Sea, it is likely that India would be willing to engage in a war on the border.
Meanwhile, Modi wants to invite Russia to join the US’ Indo-Pacific initiative, partly to prevent Washington from using India as a tool in the political gamble and partly because Russia’s presence in the South China Sea and the Pacific would restrain China and the US from going too far.
India sees a chance to profit from the Indo-Pacific Strategy and gain access to resources in the South China Sea. Disputes are inevitable, but India has hardly anything to lose, as it has no power over the region in the first place.
However, if New Delhi collaborates with other countries that claim the right to resources in the region, Beijing, with its “nine-dash line” territorial claim, would certainly protest.
In this case, Taiwan would be India’s ideal ally. By collaborating on oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea, the two nations could create a Taiwan-India sea route, make up for Taiwan’s lack of strategic assets in the US’ Indo-Pacific initiative, connect their core interests and help Taiwan export the technology in which it holds an advantage to India.
Taiwan must under no circumstances wait for US businesses to set foot in India and rely on them, as Washington and New Delhi have their own plans. Similarly, Japan provides large funds and technology to help India restore strategic road connections along the Sino-Indian border, with the intention of acquiring more high-end projects and larger market shares in India. Here, the two countries mutually rely on each other.
As the Chinese saying goes: “Why get up early if there is nothing to gain?” If Taiwan made up its mind to collaborate with India, talented and influential people from both countries would jump at the opportunity.
India is a parliamentary democracy, and Modi is only three years older than Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. These three could possibly influence the world for the next 15 years. It is possible that when US President Donald Trump on Sept. 12 said that he would “negotiate” a third term as president, it was because he has foreseen this scenario.
It is time for Taiwan to prepare, possibly by amending the Constitution to adopt a parliamentary system or extend the presidential term in response to a new global situation in which Taiwan can continue to prosper and its democracy can grow even stronger.
Lin Hsiao-chen holds a doctorate in international relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University in India.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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