After US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan earlier this month, opposition Indian Member of Parliament Manish Tewari suggested that the speaker of the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) lead a similar delegation to Taipei.
The restoration of parliamentary delegation visits would be timely and essential to bring the India-Taiwan relationship to greater heights. After all, in 2018, the Indian Parliamentary Committee on External Affairs was instrumental in reminding the Ministry of External Affairs that “India is overly cautious on Taiwan, but China does not exhibit similar sensitivities on Arunachal Pradesh or Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.”
Parliamentary exchanges between India and Taiwan are not a new phenomenon; it is just that the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors put a halt to such exchanges. The last parliamentary exchange took place in 2017, when an all-women delegation visited India under the aegis of the India-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Association formed in 2016. China responded by threatening India that it was “playing with fire” and saying it should not engage with Taiwan. Although unrelated, this was followed by the Doklam stand-off and India’s attention was diverted to the never-ending tensions with China.
Beijing’s aggression and its shared concerns with Australia, Japan and the US led New Delhi to partake in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). There is no doubt that Chinese aggression and the resultant deterioration in its relations with the Quad countries were major contributory factors in the revival of this grouping.
However, sensing the gravity of the situation, China extended an olive branch and suggested informal summits with India’s leaders. Nevertheless, China’s pretentious gesture of friendship could not survive amid the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Beijing initiated another incursion in the Galwan Valley, which quickly turned into a stand-off that claimed the lives of 20 Indian soldiers and an undisclosed number of Chinese soldiers.
Indians’ rapidly changing perception of China and frequent border clashes have reaffirmed New Delhi’s resolve to stand up to Beijing in their seven-decade-old border dispute. India has been occupied with managing tensions with China while keeping its core values and sovereignty in sight. It is under no obligation to pay attention to China’s territorial tantrums when the former has repeatedly violated India’s territorial sovereignty and attempted to change the narrative of media and politicians.
The Chinese embassy in India went a step further in its bullying tactics and sent a rude letter to some Indian MPs when they met with Tibetan parliament-in-exile speaker Khenpo Sonam Tenphe. India’s Ministry of External Affairs gave a stern response, saying: “The Chinese side should note that India is a vibrant democracy and Hon’ble MPs, as representatives of the people, undertake activities as per their views and beliefs.”
Chinese aggression and India’s resolve to safeguard its sovereignty resonate with Taiwan. At the same time, a growing awareness and warmth toward Taiwan among Indian civil society and media have led to growing multilayered exchanges between the two countries. One of the positive outcomes was the revival of the India-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Forum in 2020.
That year witnessed new highs in the relationship. The resumption of parliamentary exchanges between the two nations would contribute to the growing momentum in the relations. Such exchanges have the potential to fill the void left by the lack of formal diplomatic exchanges. Parliamentary exchanges do not impinge on the existing framework of India-Taiwan relations; on the contrary, parliamentary diplomacy could be complementary to the efforts of the representative offices, the ministries of commerce and the state governments.
As the third-largest Asian economy, India can leverage Taiwan technological advancements, while offering it one of the biggest markets for access in return. India is already courting Taiwanese semiconductor firms, especially Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. While economic and technological exchanges add an important dimension to the relationship, parliamentarians could help advance India’s interests in a range of critical sectors.
With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday announcing his new mission — “Viksit Bharat” — to make India a developed nation by 2047, New Delhi cannot let Beijing decide the course of its engagement with Taipei. In this context, it is important to normalize parliamentary exchanges between India and Taiwan. Parliamentarian visits are legislative in nature, not political. Such visits do not signal a policy change, but complement deeper agenda setting in the policymaking arena.
Indian MPs should visit Taiwan not because the West is doing it, but because it is in the nation’s interests and regular exchanges are a healthy practice of exchanges between the two democracies. India should set the precedent here, and make parliamentary diplomacy an important component of its relations with Taiwan.
Sana Hashmi is post-doctoral fellow at the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation.
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