On Nov. 10, Bloomberg reported that the India-Taiwan migration and mobility pact was being finalized and would be signed next month, allowing 100,000 Indian migrant workers to come to Taiwan. However, it is crucial to note that this information is unverified and inaccurate. As of now, the agreement has not been finalized, and negotiations concerning its clauses are still ongoing. In reality, these negotiations have been in progress for at least two years.
However, some Taiwanese locals and young netizens raised concerns regarding the pact’s potential impact on safety in Taiwan. While their dependence on Western media for information about India could explain part of this reaction, what is truly surprising is the level of apprehension expressed concerning the idea of having blue-collar workers from India in Taiwan.
It is important to emphasize that this viewpoint does not represent the majority opinion in Taiwan. Part of the issue stems from the propagation of these concerns by pro-China media. While there is not unanimous opposition, the fact that a portion of society opposes this development is disheartening and disturbing, to say the least. Many of those protesting seem to overlook the potential benefits of such a pact entirely.
If the agreement is eventually signed, it could be a landmark for several reasons. First, Taiwan is grappling with an aging population and labor shortage. India, with its young demographics, could offer cost-effective and reliable sources of labor for Taiwan. Second, it could foster stronger people-to-people ties between India and Taiwan, leading to increased interaction and the possibility of resuming direct flights.
Furthermore, India’s pursuit of such an agreement with Taiwan underscores its commitment to strengthening ties with Taiwan. This places Taiwan among countries that have fostered robust diasporic connections with India and its government. The timing of this agreement is particularly significant, aligning with India’s evolving policy toward Taiwan, emphasizing the importance of fostering friendship, which is crucial for Taiwan’s interests.
Last week, Indian Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar, while on a visit to the UK, responded to a question concerning Taiwan. He said: “We have substantial economic, commercial, technological relations with Taiwan, and Taiwan has a reputation of electronics and semiconductor there has been an upswing in the level of cooperation.”
That marked the first occasion Jaishankar publicly addressed Taiwan without categorizing the relations as “unofficial.” This indicates a significant policy shift towards Taiwan.
Nonetheless, even with the agreement finalized, meeting the resulting demand might present substantial challenges. It is highly improbable that India would be able to instantly provide a large number of migrant workers. Here is why:
To begin with, the signing of the agreement does not guarantee an immediate influx of migrant workers from India to Taiwan. Understanding and awareness among Indian workers regarding Taiwan may still be limited. Factors such as the China threat and misperception of the situation in Taiwan could significantly impact their willingness to relocate. Due to the lack of direct exchanges and interactions, many people in India, like in Taiwan, follow the hyperbolic discussions regarding the possibility of war in the Taiwan Strait from Western sources, and a significant number believe that war is imminent. The war in Ukraine and the evacuation of Indians serve as notable examples of potential migrant workers being dissuaded from seeking work abroad.
Furthermore, the persistent language barrier would likely deter migrant workers from choosing Taiwan over countries with more language accessibility. Additionally, workers might still prioritize destinations such as the Middle East or Singapore due to the allure of higher wages.
Nevertheless, while prospects and challenges persist, agreements like a Taiwan and India migratory pact hold the potential to infuse a new vigor into bilateral relations.
Since 2020, I have witnessed first-hand a growing wave of Indian support for Taiwan, contributing to a notably positive perception of Taiwan among Indians. However, a small segment of society in Taiwan protesting against the pact and resorting to racial slurs against Indian migrant workers has somewhat undermined this progress, particularly on social media. As an advocate for India-Taiwan relations, personally, witnessing this turn of events is disheartening. While it might not lead to a substantial setback, perception holds significant sway.
The agreement and the arrival of migrant workers in Taiwan would undoubtedly augment the already advancing India-Taiwan relations. Indians have been integral to Taiwan’s success story for decades, with some establishing their homes here since the 1970s. Embracing this positive shift in relations is crucial for India, Taiwan and the broader Indo-Pacific region. This partnership possesses the essential elements to become a defining alliance within the region.
Just as we Indians have stood with Taiwan, it is now an opportune moment for Taiwan to demonstrate that it welcomes Indians from all walks of life. It is imperative for Taiwan to consistently exhibit what it truly represents: a free, inclusive and open society.
Sana Hashmi is a fellow at the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation and George H.W. Bush Foundation for US-China Relations. The views expressed in this article are her own.
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