There is a constant debate regarding countries’ responses to a potential “Taiwan contingency,” but relatively little discussion on how to deter China from invading Taiwan. What must be reinforced is that the Indo-Pacific construct is about preventing conflicts and maintaining peace and stability in the region.
India views Taiwan differently than Western countries do. For India, Taiwan is not a pawn in a game of geopolitical chess. Its perception of Taiwan is driven by its economic interests and that Taiwan is a like-minded country in the Indo-Pacific region.
Unlike much of the West, India’s Taiwan policy is not limited to the “China factor.” As New Delhi values its relations with Taipei, it has refrained from using Taiwan as a card against China.
Additionally, India does not want the China factor or its relations with Beijing to shape its Taiwan policy. As much as it is hard to separate India’s Taiwan policy from India-China relations, New Delhi has been relatively successful in achieving this.
Last year, Taiwan-India relations improved. The government’s shifting stance toward Taiwan was visible on several occasions.
First, an unprecedented statement in August by Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman on China’s unprovoked aggression in the Taiwan Strait in the aftermath of then-US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan signals a subtle policy shift from India’s side.
In November, India rolled out the red carpet for Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Chen Chern-chyi (陳正祺), highlighting New Delhi’s interests in advancing economic cooperation with Taipei.
An agreement between India’s Vedanta Ltd and Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co to establish a semiconductor plant in the Indian state of Gujarat was also welcomed.
While such developments were positive, it is important to establish a long-term framework and minimize the China factor further. It is vital that the two sides interact with each other at multiple levels. Regular interactions mean more awareness of each other’s interests, expectations and convergences.
A certain degree of clarity is important. The two countries have a lot to gain by defining their interests. There are a few steps that India should take toward Taiwan.
First, China’s aggression was at the core of the revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). Taiwan and India are the biggest victims of China’s military intimidation. India should drop its hesitancy and let the Quad leaders issue a statement on the significance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
The “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait could only be ensured if China’s aggression and its economic coercion are discussed as mainstream issues by like-minded partners.
Second, India should make Taiwan an official part of its “Act East Policy” and “Indo-Pacific vision.” That vision is inclusive, given that India was the first country to place ASEAN centrality at the core of its policy.
India views Taiwan as an important player in the Indo-Pacific region. India and other partners need to devise a way to incorporate Taiwan within its Indo-Pacific framework.
Third, parliamentary visits are a norm and very much a part of the mandate of unofficial relations with Taiwan. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs should let Indian lawmakers visit Taiwan on a friendly visit. The India-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Association should finally be put to use this year.
With Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy, the government has pushed Taiwanese businesses to reduce their reliance on China, and invest in South and Southeast Asian countries.
China, for decades, has benefited from Taiwanese investments. India is a preferred country for Taiwan. Taiwanese investors looking for new destinations provide an opportunity for Indians to secure investments from Taiwan. In the economic field, there is huge potential for India and Taiwan to become reliable partners.
There needs to be greater political will from India’s side, coupled with a realization that engagement with Taiwan is mutually beneficial. Given that India and Taiwan are both dealing with the China challenge, the China factor could be a catalyst for cooperation in Taiwan-India relations.
It is highly unlikely that India-China relations will go back to their pre-2020 status for some time. Relations with China would not improve until China mends its ways. This, we all could agree, is less likely to happen.
More engagement and interaction with Taiwan would not only strengthen India’s economic outreach, but could also help it achieve some of its strategic objectives, address challenges and establish itself as a formidable player in the Indo-Pacific region.
This year, Taiwan-India relations could become a defining partnership in the Indo-Pacific region, but only if the two sides shed hesitancy and become more proactive in engaging each other.
Let us pull a rabbit out of the hat this year, and make 2023 a watershed year in the Taiwan-India relationship.
Sana Hashmi is a postdoctoral fellow at the Taiwan Asia Exchange Foundation and a fellow at the George H.W. Bush Foundation for US-China Relations.
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