For India, it’s time to play the Taiwan card to counter China

Establishing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan will bring about a paradigm shift vis-à-vis India’s foreign policy. However, the recognition may invite severe ramifications for India, writes Pranay Kumar Shome for South Asia Monitor 

Pranay Kumar Shome Jan 22, 2021
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At a time when the dragon is breathing fire, India must explore alternative tactics, perhaps the establishment of formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan can be a landmark step

The stand-off on the Ladakh border between the Indian Army and the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) continues amid failing talks. While the Indian government and the armed forces have made it clear that they will do whatever it takes to protect India’s sovereignty and integrity, precious little has been done assertively on the foreign policy front.

While India and its democratic allies which comprise the Quad security grouping declare their intent to form the ‘Asian NATO,’ the Quad continues to suffer from indecisiveness which was pretty much evident when the grouping - India, Australia, US, and Japan - did not even issue a joint statement to condemn China at the foreign ministers' meeting held last year. It was only America that publicly called out China.

In such a situation, it is imperative that India explore alternative diplomatic and militaristic routes to tame the dragon.

Recognizing Taiwan

Establishing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan after recognizing it should be vigorously pursued. India-Taiwan ties date back to the early 1950s when Chiang Kai-shek, the ex-Chinese president and the former head of state who fled to the island of Formosa following the victory of Mao Zedong in the long drawn out Chinese civil war, called on then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to establish and further ties with Formosa. However, Nehru  decided to ignore his call, choosing instead to concentrate on building ties with the People’s Republic of China.

Seven decades on a plethora of changes have taken place on the foreign affairs front, while both China and India have developed considerably - both militarily and economically - China has surpassed the elephant to become an economic powerhouse. It has now embraced aggressiveness to enforce its 5th-century vision of the ‘Middle Kingdom.’ In such a situation providing legitimacy to the existence of Taiwan is a necessary first step.

Paradigm shift in policy

Establishing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan will bring about a paradigm shift vis-à-vis India’s foreign policy. It will enforce the idea that liberal democracy is the last word in the battle of ideologies as Francis Fukuyama had visualized in his landmark book ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ and that there is no alternative to human rights and liberties, not even the Chinese model of ‘authoritarian development’.

It will be the boldest step that any global leader would take, and not even the mighty US which has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan could do so.

Recognizing Taiwan will entail a lot of benefits for the mandarins of India’s foreign policy regime - firstly, Taiwan is a robust democracy with a booming economy; it will prove to be an alternative to China albeit in a relatively less proportion; secondly, India can bolster the legitimacy as the leader of the democratic world at a time when the democratic institutions in the US - often regarded as the cradle of democracy - has been undermined.

Thirdly, India can get the support of another powerful ally in its attempt to carve out a new supply chain alliance which India-Japan-Australia formalized recently. Fourthly, recognizing Taiwan will make it clear to China that India means some serious business, and if the need arises then India will not back down from sending dedicated naval and air assets in the disputed South China Sea region to enforce the freedom of navigation principle in the resource-rich region. 

Lastly, the Quad security grouping will be institutionalized which in the near future can even be extended to include new members. It will be the first time that India will be a part of any dedicated military and economic alliance that will deter the aggression of the Chinese war machine in the strategic Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific Region.

Caveats remain

However, the recognition may invite severe ramifications for India. China will be infuriated and can choose to ratchet up tensions with India. India must be extremely careful while dealing with Beijing as China is our second-largest bilateral trade partner and a key export partner of India with regard to raw materials and goods.

According to a FICCI report, India imports more than 40 percent of several important goods like the API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients), television, chemicals, chips, textiles, and many more.

China will as a possible retaliatory measure can activate its propaganda machinery to wage psychological warfare with India. It can also activate its terror financing networks which for years remained chronic internal security for India in the northeast of the country.

China will also collaborate with its ‘iron brother’ Pakistan to try and deter India by intensifying terrorism in the Kashmir valley and elsewhere. Further, China can use its potent disinformation empire to try and peddle fake news about the credibility of India’s indigenous vaccines at a time when the light at the end of the tunnel of a pandemic stricken world has appeared.

Exercising caution

Keeping all the dangers in mind, the Narendra Modi government must keep national interests in mind. Despite all the risks, it must work with all the like-minded countries to take on the mighty dragon which is said to be responsible for unleashing a deadly virus that has wreaked havoc on humanity. 

For the sake of the free world, India must take the hard step which will reinforce India’s position in cementing its place as the leader of the free world.

(The writer is a student of International Relations, Jadavpur University, Kolkata. The views are personal)

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