A universally accepted notion about international relations and world history is: “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.”
This holds true of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to the belligerent postures of the two revisionist powers — China and Russia — the pace of regional and global strategic dynamics has been exacerbated, leaving many in the region to catch up with changing realities.
India and Taiwan are two such partners. Cognizant of the mutual gains their bilateral relations might accrue, New Delhi and Taipei are engaging each other at a fast pace while abandoning their “status quo” approach. A long-term strategy to push relations forward in a more systematic and meaningful way is in order.
Enabling steps to devise such a long-term vision are already in place. For instance, Taiwan is an unofficial part of India’s Act East Policy. Although India has not officially included Taiwan within the ambit of the policy, Taiwan does figure prominently within its framework. So it is only natural that the Act East Policy’s three Cs — commerce, culture and connectivity — are expanded in India’s relations with Taiwan as well. One could add a fourth “C” — cyberspace.
Commercial ties are at the core of relations between Taiwan and India. The volume of trade since last year has increased by 60 percent, but two-way trade remains below US$10 billion. The Bilateral Investment Treaty in its new avatar was signed in 2018, and was also the last agreement between the two countries.
Investment also remains low, but the good news is that it has doubled since the treaty was signed. Taiwanese business leaders are considered to be averse to risk, which explains their preference for East and Southeast Asian markets for investments.
However, Southeast Asian markets are becoming increasingly saturated, coupled with increasing competition from advanced economies such as Australia, the EU and Japan. Australia, the UK and the EU have their eyes India’s vast market. If Taiwan does not take this opportunity, it could be added to an already long list of missed opportunities.
Cultural exchanges between Taiwan and India should also be promoted. The India Spring Festival in Taiwan is held each year, but India could do more on its side. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the cultural and public diplomacy body within India’s Ministry of External Affairs, could play a bigger role.
One of the little-explored aspects in the cultural partnership is Buddhism. To strengthen connections between Taiwanese and Indians, Taiwan could promote local tours of sites for Indian visitors. This should also be done for Taiwanese visitors in India, which has been making efforts to increase tourist inflows as a part of its “incredible India” campaign.
Airline connectivity between the two countries also should be improved. China Airlines’ direct flights to New Delhi have come to a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For Taiwanese and Indian travelers who avoid transit through Hong Kong, their only options are to travel through Singapore, Dubai and Thailand.
Despite its potential to become one of Asia’s most popular destinations, Taiwan is not configured as a priority for Indian tourists.
Regarding cyberspace, India and Taiwan are facing an increasing number of threats from a common adversary. While Taiwan is no stranger to Chinese cyberattacks — sometimes in the millions in a month — India recently experienced an attack by Chinese hackers on power grids in Ladakh.
Taiwan and India could negotiate agreements in cybersecurity to exchange ideas and learn from each other’s experiences.
The governments should lay out a comprehensive plan to advance ties in all of these areas. The four Cs should be included in Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy, which is being re-evaluated by President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration.
This year marks the 30th year of India’s Look East Policy. Formally integrating Taiwan into its Look East and Act East policies would be a timely and much-needed step.
Sana Hashmi is a visiting fellow at the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation and non-resident researcher with the Research Institute for Indo-Pacific Affairs, Japan.
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