Supporting Taiwan diplomatically will be an overkill of India’s strategic interests
Many want Delhi to establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan, in order to snub Chinese for mollycoddling Pakistan on Kashmir. But snubbing will neither settle the border disputes nor Taiwan can replace our manufacturing dependence on China.
Sino-Indian relation is a casualty of Beijing's insatiable greed for expansionism and projecting itself as a world economic and military power. Its repeated aggression against India and its recent war-posturing against Taiwan following US Congressional speaker, Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taipei, illustrate its inherently duplicitous and suspicious psyche. But it won't go to a full-fledged war with either, afraid of the impact that international sanctions and military reverses will have on its economy and internal stability. Beijing, therefore, has no trusting friends in the comity of nations but only hostages like Pakistan.
Since independence, India remained mostly at the receiving end of Chinese military might due to weak and corrupt leadership, fractious polity and a liberal democracy. Beijing fooled Nehru to annex 45,000 sq km in Aksai Chin in 1962. A year later, Delhi watched helplessly as Pakistan ceded 5,000 sq km in Hunza and Gilgit regions of POK. In subsequent years, PLA captured 43,000 sq km. Then came clashes in Doklam (2017) and Galwan (2020), when Indian troops for the first time, gave it back to PLA in equal measures. Since then, a stand-off continues along the LAC, with Beijing negotiating insincerely, augmenting its defense infrastructure and forces all along and harping on its alleged sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh. It has also made it a habit to oppose India's position on J&K and Pakistani terrorists in the UN and to counter India's influence in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan.
Yet, India's response to Chinese swagger has been more nuanced. It avoids being bellicose on Tibet and would wait until China splinters like Soviet Union. However, it allows Dalai Lama's unfettered visits in India, is strengthening its defense build up and showing no undue hurry in accommodating Chinese in border negotiations. It minces no words in claiming Arunachal Pradesh as its state, does not hesitate in banning Chinese Apps in hordes, or acting against Chinese companies that violate Indian laws or opposing China's BRI project that runs through illegally Pak-occupied occupied Gilgit and Baltistan. It has also joined QUAD and made no bones for working with US, Japan, Australia to promote coercion-free, open and rule-based security and prosperity in Indo-Pacific region. Chinese are fully aware that India will not be abandoned if aggressed and unlike Ukraine, it may not even need Washington to fight its war.
Notwithstanding their differences, both countries have vested interest in trading with each other - China needs India's huge market and India, their investments, goods and raw material. Hence, their bilateral trade recorded a high of US 125 billion dollars last year with India' export growing by 34% and imports by 46.20%. In the first half of 2022, Delhi has already imported goods worth $57.51 billion to prevent any slackening of momentum in its economy.
They are many who want Delhi to establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan, in order to snub Chinese for mollycoddling Pakistan on Kashmir. But snubbing will neither force Chinese to settle the border disputes nor Taiwan can replace our manufacturing dependence on China. They need to understand that Taiwan's largest trading partner is China - 33 per cent of all its exports and 22 per cent of all its imports are meant for Beijing. In last 5 years, Taiwan's import surged by 87 per cent. Approximately 1.2 lakh Taiwanese work in 1 lakh companies in China. It is anyone's guess if their umbilical chord can ever be snapped, regardless of Pelosi's visit or PLA's muscle-flexing.
Hence, India needs both. During the last eight years, there has been an enormous interest in strengthening bilateral relations with Taipei. 73 per cent Taiwanese also support increased ties. 46,000 Indians now find it congenial to reside there. Among major institutional initiatives taken are bilateral investment agreement, agreements on double tax avoidance and customs mutual assistance, Taiwan External Trade Development councils in Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai, India-Taiwan parliamentary forum and Taiwan tourism information Centre.
Universities collaborate in data analysis, cyber security, green energy, healthcare and, ISRO and Taiwan National Space Organization in space sector. Bilateral trade has recorded this year a growth of 192 per cent. FDI inflows have increased 10 times. Over 200 companies currently operate in India in the field of information, medical devices, automobile components, machines, steel, electronics, construction, financial services, etc. India presently buys 2 billion USD worth of semi conductor chips and negotiating with them to set up a plant to serve its chip requirement of 100 billion by 2025.
Short of having a Taiwanese ambassador, India no longer harps on One-China policy and opposed unilateral annexation of territories during recent Taiwan crisis. These formulations may not wholly satisfy Taiwanese political leadership but are positive steps to woo them scale up productive friendship with India.
(Amar Bhushan worked with the Research and Analysis Wing for 24 years after briefly serving in the BSF intelligence, State Special Branch and Intelligence Bureau. He served as the Special Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat before he retired in 2005.)
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