In 2020, the Taiwan-India Parliamentary Friendship Association was revived with much fanfare. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Wu Yu-chin (吳玉琴) assumed the presidency of the association in its revived form. The revival of the association took place in the presence and with active participation from Deputy Foreign Minister Tien Chung-kwang (田中光) and then-India-Taipei Association director-general Gourangalal Das. The development came after a deterioration in India-China relations and the resultant amenability between the civil societies and people of India and Taiwan. Given the shared challenge posed by China, this growing friendship was not only expected, but also quite natural.
However, three years have passed since its revival, and there has been limited progress within the scope of the parliamentary forum. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic abating and leading to an increase in lawmakers’ visits to Taiwan from around the globe, India remains a notable exception by not sending or encouraging a parliamentary delegation visit to Taiwan. The only Indian parliamentarian to visit Taiwan last year and this year was lawmaker Sujeet Kumar. Parliamentary exchanges between India and Taiwan are not uncharted territory, so what is hindering the two countries from resuming these visits? Several factors have contributed to this situation.
In its prior iteration, the parliamentary friendship association played a crucial role in arranging bipartisan visits, such as the remarkable 2018 visit of an all-female parliamentary delegation from Taiwan to India. That visit triggered protests from China, with the Global Times, a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party, cautioning India against “playing with fire.” However, this occurred during a distinct period in India-China relations. India’s hopes for stabilizing relations with China, combined with the challenges posed by the pandemic, led to a temporary halt in parliamentary exchanges between the two countries, despite both operating under parliamentary systems of government.
Furthermore, several parliamentarians who once showed an interest and inclination towards Taiwan have since retired from politics, leaving a gap that Taiwan must address by enhancing its outreach efforts and cultivating interest in Taiwan among Indian lawmakers. However, it would not be fair to solely attribute the lack of interest in Taiwan to Indian lawmakers. Taiwanese lawmakers, too, often overlook India, as their focus has predominantly centered on Western countries. Even though the New Southbound Policy was initiated by the DPP administration primarily to strengthen ties with South and Southeast Asian countries, the legislative branch of the Taiwanese administration has yet to fully engage with the New Southbound Policy countries.
Addressing this mutual disinterest is essential, and the rationale behind doing so is straightforward: It is mutually beneficial to engage each other. A significant portion of civil society, the media, and even the general populace in India holds favorable views toward Taiwan. Seizing this opportunity is not just logical but essential for fostering positive perception and harnessing the potential of the relations between the two countries.
The lack of diplomatic relations should not serve as an excuse for these neglected and underdeveloped areas with significant potential. Instead, it should serve as a motivation for proactive efforts given both countries have much to gain from engagement. Encouraging parliamentary exchanges are crucial precisely because formal government dialogues are constrained. In the absence of unrestricted government communication, parliamentarians, who are integral members of the state apparatus yet possess the autonomy to act independently, must play a central role. They can pave the way for meaningful interactions between India and Taiwan.
India is seeking investments from Taiwan. While there are existing government-level engagements in the economic sector, they occur at the secretary level. Facilitating exchanges between parliamentarians could significantly contribute to India’s goal of attracting investments. As a semiconductor powerhouse, Taiwan is home to major semiconductor giants that have shown reluctance to enter the Indian market. Indian parliamentarians could play a crucial role in negotiating alongside the Indian government and encourage these companies to invest in India’s growing semiconductor industry.
Parliamentary exchanges would also help satiate the appetite for stronger relations. While India has taken a cautious approach and refrained from discussing Taiwan openly in matters related to China, parliamentarians can engage with Taiwan and gain a deeper understanding of the associated risk factors.
Undoubtedly, advanced exchanges between parliamentarians from both sides would facilitate a more productive path for Taiwan and India to bolster cooperation without exacerbating complexities in their relationship. Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said in his book The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World that “India must reach out in as many directions as possible and maximize its gains.”
Taiwan should be a vital component of India’s eastward outreach, and parliamentarians can play a substantial role in shaping and advancing India’s policy.
Parliamentarians represent their people’s interests. Given the widespread support among Indians for Taiwan and the mutual benefits of engaging with Taiwan, it is imperative for them to work toward advancing India-Taiwan relations.
Sana Hashmi is a fellow at the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation and the George H. W. Bush Foundation for US-China Relations.
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