Over the past few months, there has been a perceptible uptick in calls for India to reassess its relationship with China and to work harder to engage more with Taiwan, despite the risk of Beijing’s ire.
China and India have long had a tense relationship, but aggressive diplomatic and military moves, and issues such as COVID-19 and security concerns over Chinese technologies, have worsened ties and given New Delhi cause to reassess its pragmatic caution.
Indian suspicion toward the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) goes back decades. The fragile political conceit of the Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai (“India and China are brothers”) slogan, promoted by then-Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and China’s revolutionary leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東), was revealed by the 1962 Sino-Indian war.
The Doklam crisis in 2017 and the more recent — and deadly — tensions along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, as well as face-offs at the UN, have only exacerbated the negative perception of the CCP among Indians.
China’s opposition to India’s attempts to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, despite supporting Pakistan’s, and to blacklist the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed as a terrorist organization in 2009, 2016 and 2017 have given the perception that Beijing often sides with Pakistan against India.
Links between China and COVID-19 would have only damaged the CCP’s reputation among Indians, and this negative perception surely contributed to the wave of support for Taiwan as it celebrated Double Ten National Day on Saturday last week.
That was bolstered by a backlash from Indian online commentators and media against a letter from the Chinese embassy in New Delhi on Wednesday last week, which advised them on how to refer to Taiwan when reporting National Day celebrations, called for compliance with Beijing’s “one China” principle and urged them to remind their readers that Taiwan is an “inalienable part” of China’s territory.
Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, spokesman for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s New Delhi branch, responded by placing 100 signs bearing Taiwan’s national flag and the words: “Taiwan Happy National Day October 10” around the Chinese embassy.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) can include attacks on India’s press freedoms as yet another way in which his bellicosity is alienating other nations.
On Tuesday, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) posted photographs on Twitter of her at the Taj Mahal in Agra and thanking her Indian Twitter followers.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has good cause to be wary of the CCP, despite efforts by Xi to cultivate trust with billions of US dollars in investments in India’s infrastructure.
New Delhi is apprehensive about China’s increasing presence in South Asia and investment in India, and Beijing’s strengthening ties with other regional players, especially Pakistan.
The Indian government has taken actions to limit trade and investment links with China and is — together with the US, Japan and Australia — one of the “Quad” trying to address China-centric economic globalization and the realignment of global supply chains in a post-COVID-19 era.
The stage is set for a more enthusiastic pursuit of Taiwan-India political, economic and security ties, possibly even a free-trade agreement, in addition to increased cultural and social exchanges.
Taiwan could provide India with much-needed investment in its infrastructure and provide a new base for Indian companies wishing to exit China.
Tsai’s administration should encourage local businesses to enter the Indian market by providing guidance on navigating the cultural, language and regulatory barriers, and by working with New Delhi to relax some of its strict rules on foreign investment.
The potential benefits for both nations are huge.
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