In her Double Ten National Day address, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took pride in making the claim that this year belongs to Taiwan — “2020 proud of Taiwan.” The essence of this sentimental assertion lies in the fact that this year has seen Taiwan beating its COVID-19 outbreak at the initial stage; it has witnessed Taiwan ducking the negative economic impact of the outbreak — its economy is doing rather well — and it has been a witness to David (Taiwan) taking on Goliaths (China and the WHO).
This year, Taiwan has exposed to the world how power politics can make the world bodies, founded on universalist values, indifferent toward the weaker. This would be remembered as the year when Taiwan generated extraordinary international empathy and support for its observer status in the World Health Assembly (WHA) of the WHO and sensitized international opinion about its perspectives on cross-strait relations, more than in any given year until then.
Taiwan’s public diplomacy blitzkrieg in international media, arguing its case for observer status in the WHA in May with the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, has proved quite successful in shaping public opinion, and eliciting moral and political support at the popular level in India.
A COVID-19-induced geopolitical environment is conducive for the development of people-to-people ties between India and Taiwan.
From an Indian point of view, the following passages from Tsai’s speech might attract the government’s attention in India or, in other words, the message contained in these paragraphs can be sold to the Indian government.
Tsai said that Taiwan has “prepared for economic development in the post-pandemic era, proactively planning and promoting our six core strategic industries ... already planned out the step-by-step allocation of ... the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program special budget and stepped up the pace of [its] implementation.”
She said that Taiwan has “been welcoming the largest wave of reshoring in decades by Taiwanese companies, with investments worth more than NT$1 trillion [US$34.6 billion], along with over NT$100 million in overseas funds being repatriated.”
She said that foreign and multinational companies “are also increasing their investments in Taiwan,” adding that Taiwan is committed to “fully and comprehensively participating” in the reorganization of global supply chains, “the rapid dismantling and realignment” of which is “now irreversible.”
She said that “Taiwanese businesses around the world are moving toward segmented markets, production base migration, and reshoring to invest in Taiwan at an ever-faster pace.”
Taiwan’s “‘five plus two’ innovative industries plan, six core strategic Industries, trillion NT dollar investment program, the New Southbound Policy, Taiwan-US economic cooperation and participation in regional economic integration” directly contribute to “supply chain realignment,” Tsai said.
Taiwan needs to be developed as “a hub for international capital, talent and digital technology,” which would be “the critical factors in supply chain realignment,” she added.
In keeping with this, Tsai emphasized leveraging “Taiwan’s strengths in ICT, semiconductors, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence,” to harness core digital technologies to “accelerate digital transformation of industry and the economy.”
As India is struggling with the economic consequences of COVID-19, its GDP has shrunk and its economic difficulties seem to be set for the long haul. Taiwan can offer a helping hand.
India badly needs investment in the infrastructure sector.
Taiwan has the capital to invest in this sector. It can promote its six core strategic industries — particularly information and digital industries, cybersecurity, biotech and medical technology, green energy and renewable energy industries — in India.
The ban on Chinese apps by India opens the door for Taiwan to further deepen its presence in the Indian IT, ICT and information technology-enabled services market in a much more successful way.
Taiwanese artificial intelligence companies might be given preference by India, as the Indian government has been pushing for digital transformation of the country.
As India is keen to host companies that might be willing to relocate from China, Taiwan can perhaps help it attract some of them to India.
It might be the right time for Taiwan to push for a free-trade agreement or similar agreement with India.
A special economic zone for Taiwanese companies might be explored. Taiwanese science parks might be set up in India.
Incidentally, the Indian state of Karnataka has agreements for cooperation with science parks in Taiwan — between the Karnataka Innovation and Technology Society and the Hsinchu Science Park (新竹科學園區) and Central Taiwan Science Park (中部科學園區).
Separately in 2018, Century Development Corp of Taiwan bought a plot of land in the state to develop an industrial park.
Similarly, the state of Tamil Nadu was reported to be impressed by the Hsinchu Science Park and is keen on replicating the same model in the state.
Cooperation in the form of dedicated industrial and science parks can be vigorously pushed. A trilateral economic venture between India, Taiwan and the US might be pushed too.
In brief, India is increasingly feeling the urgency of having to reduce its economic engagement with China, in the same manner as Taiwan. Thus, this might be an opportune moment for a fresh impetus for Taiwan’s deeper economic engagement with India.
India might be found willing to accord a more favorable treatment to Taiwanese companies, as it is looking for setting up alternative supply chains, side-stepping China.
There is a groundswell of empathy for Taiwan at the popular level in India — in the media, in the strategic community (think tanks) and in the political sections as well as among concerned citizens.
The credit goes to the unprecedented “heat” that the rise of China has generated for the region. Although it is understandable that the Indian government might still be hesitant in promoting “political relations” with Taiwan, the urgent economic imperatives and support of conducive public opinion might make it more receptive toward deeper economic cooperation.
On the whole, the Indian government has been positive toward economic relations with Taiwan and a facilitatory framework is already in place. The present context might further help them take their economic relations to greater heights, doing away with any residual issues that these relations might still be confronting.
Incidentally, one might believe that cooperation in select areas as indicated and in the ways alluded to in the preceding section, can help Taiwan in the long term to prepare ground for “political relations” with India — something that Taiwan is perceived to look for.
However, again, different dynamics are at work when it comes to any “political relations” between the two. Taiwan should not be impatient; rather, it should make the best use of the present situation, while it lasts.
Prashant Kumar Singh is an associate fellow with the East Asia Centre at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, India.
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