India & Taiwan – Natural Partners

India needs to strengthen its relations with Taiwan at a time when “New Southbound Policy” initiative of Taiwan aims to cooperate with India.
Keywords: China | Communism | Taiwan | New Southbound Policy | PLA | Democracy | Coronavirus | Hong Kong | Chiang Kai-shek | Democratic Progressive Party | USA | Taiwan Strait
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Renowned historian Stephane Courtois has written a book named “Black book of communism” which takes into account the state-sponsored mass killings under the Communist regime (neither culturally nor geographically Chinese in roots) which estimates that around 100 million people were killed between 1949 and 1999. The famines that took place under Communist rule were directly responsible for poor Chinese to eat wild animals (although this is an old Chinese practice) which may have contributed to outbreaks of diseases like SARS and the current Coronavirus pandemic. 

On one side Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed upon ‘One country, Two systems’ policy in his speeches which was originally designed for Taiwan but was applied to Hong Kong after the UK’s handover of the region to China in 1997. On the other hand, on-going tensions are flaring up with Taiwan which can potentially trigger a war with various nations including India too. 

In September 2020, a few fighter aircraft of the PLA repeatedly broke through the median line in the Taiwan Sea. The regular fly-bys of China’s planes and the constant threat presented by its navy, has rung alarm bells in Taiwan. Such a violation was observed for the first time in the past two decades along the proposed yet unofficial Taiwan Strait median line between the mainland and the island. The constant and regular intervention by China’s army around the maritime boundary demonstrates that Beijing, in the name of reunification, aims for expansion by whatever means possible. 

The disputes between the two take us back to 1949 when Mao Zedong had won a decisive victory over the nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek in the civil war. Chiang Kai-shek moved his troops to Taipei, the capital of Taiwan and planned to pursue the war against the communist government but the cold war froze the conflict in place. Both Mao and Chiang believed in a united China and each claimed to be the rightful ruler of the country. Chiang ruled as a dictator until his death in 1975 when Lee Tung-hui, known as a father of Taiwan’s democracy took Taiwan towards the form of government it has today.

The transition in Taiwan’s political status accelerated in 2008 when Ma Ying-jeou, from the Kuomintang party, was sworn in as President. Ma Ying-jeou favoured close ties with China and its policies and held a historic meeting in Singapore with the PRC’s Chairman. But the diplomatic interlude came to an abrupt end when Tsai Ing-wen from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) became President in 2016. Since then Taiwan and China have drastically reduced their formal interactions. Much of that estrangement can be attributed to the fact that DPP is a Taiwanese nationalist party which advocates Taiwanese sovereignty and is ardently anti-Communist.

In May 2020, a survey done by the Pew research group among Taiwanese people revealed that the majority believe that they belong to Taiwanese culture and are not a province of greater China. Joseph Wu, the Foreign Minister of Taiwan said that Taiwan is not run by China, ‘as we democratically elected our President and Government’. But the question is, how far Taiwan can score a diplomatic win over the giant communist neighbour while preserving peace in the region? 

Will the USA go to war with China over Taiwan?

The USA plays a pivotal role in the relations between China and Taiwan since the origins of the two states. Since President Jimmy Carter visited the region, US policy had been to maintain a balance of power in the region. In 1996, the first Presidential elections in Taiwan were influenced by the Chinese army which conducted missile tests to put pressure on the island. In recent months, to send a clear signal to Beijing, the USA sent two aircraft carrier battle groups in the Taiwan Strait. On the flip side though, the USA doesn’t recognise Taiwan as a sovereign nation, though it constantly supplies it with arms and ammunition. Last year, the USA announced the sale of sixty-six F-16 fighter jets at subsidised rates. The ambiguity in the USA’s stand makes it clear that while they won’t recognise the independence of Taiwan; they will continue to provide military support to Taipei whose economy is highly interdependent with China’s. 

Where does India stand?

The present Indian government did its best to improve ties with China in every aspect but the recent clashes in the Galwan valley and the subsequent standoff have blown a cold wind over the relations between the two Asian giants. The official position of India on Taiwan is dated at best. It has not recognised Taiwan as an independent nation and formally follows a “One China Policy”. India needs to strengthen its relations with Taiwan at a time when ‘The new Southbound Policy’ initiative under Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen aims to cooperate with 18 countries including India on Trade, Technology, Agriculture, Medicine, Education and Tourism. 

It is noteworthy that Taipei sees New Delhi as a key partner in the drive to contain the influence of China. Taiwan’s electronic industry is large & advanced and robust trade ties with Taiwan would decrease India’s dependency on mainland China’s electronic and digital manufacturers. Taiwan was also the first country to deliver medical equipment to India in the early stage of the Covid pandemic. All this indicates that India and Taiwan can possibly become close strategic partners in the future and could further invest in each other’s economies while multiplying political and cultural ties.

Lately, China’s army has raised more specific threats against Taiwan. Under the rule of Xi Jinping, China’s military has been regularly conducting drills and exercises while evoking the prospect of war more openly. Incidentally, Taiwan celebrates its National Day on 10 October, and this year ‘National Taiwan Day 2020’ became one of the top Twitter trends in Indian media. The coming decade is very crucial for geopolitical stability in Asia, and India-Taiwan partnership can play a crucial role in shaping the order in the region. 

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Raushan Kumar

Mr Raushan Kumar is a Research Scholar in Mahatma Gandhi Central University, Motihari, Bihar.

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