By Namrata Hasija
A three-member Taiwanese parliamentary delegation led by ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Kuan Bi-ling visited India to celebrate the 1st Anniversary of India-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Forum on February 8, 2017.
This visit managed to grab maximum headlines due to the strong opposition expressed by Mainland China. The Chinese media criticized the visit and accused India of playing the ‘Taiwan card’. The People’s Daily quoted Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang as saying that ‘China has made solemn representations with India on Taiwan-related issues. It is hoped that the Indian side will uphold the one-China principle and properly handle Taiwan-related issues with prudence’.
Global Times, the official newspaper, took a jibe at the current Indian foreign policy and reported that "...some Indian strategists have advised the (Narendra) Modi government to play the Taiwan card, using the commitment of the 'One-China' policy as leverage in exchange for China's endorsement of One India”.
It also stated that by challenging China over the Taiwan question, “India is playing with fire". The article also criticised Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and said that she was exploiting India's "strategic suspicions against China" and instructed India to be wary of her moves.
What has prompted China to express such a strong reaction regarding a Taiwanese delegation’s visit to India unlike those in the past?
The recent events, especially Trump’s statement on reconsidering ‘One China policy’ -- although he later reaffirmed previous US policy, and the election of a pro-independence President in Taiwan has resulted in making Mainland China edgy.
Trump’s statement on ‘One China policy’ and his conversation with Tsai gave impetus to the Taiwan issue. Taiwan, considered PRC’s Achilles’ heel, holds a prominent place in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s agenda to be achieved during his tenure wherein Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan are to be reunited with the Mainland.
Trump used the ‘Taiwan card’ without considering the repercussions, both for US-China relationship and for peace across the Strait. With his reaffirmation, China is jubilant and has asked India not to play with the ‘One China policy’. “At a time when new US President Donald Trump has put the brakes on challenging China over the Taiwan question, agreeing to change course and respecting the One China policy, India stands out as a provocateur,” said the article in Global Times.
On the other hand, PRC (People’s Republic of China) has been trying to put pressure on the Tsai government by targeting its allies. In December 2016, São Tomé and Príncipe switched their diplomatic allegiance to Beijing. South Africa, Nigeria and Cambodia have also been pressurised by PRC recently against any official or non-official exchanges with Taiwan.
Under Tsai’s ‘New Southbound policy’ it has increased its engagement with India and ASEAN countries, which Tsai’s administration wants to consolidate further. This opposition should be seen in this context and PRC’s attempt to put pressure on Tsai’s government to accept the 1992 consensus and, by pressurising its allies, PRC wants Taiwan to remain dependent on PRC.
India has very sensibly brushed off these fierce remarks and opposition by PRC and has stated that such visits from Taiwan are routine in nature and there is nothing new in this particular visit either. Visits like these are taken by Taiwanese legislatures even to PRC so why should India be singled out, said spokesperson Vikas Swarup of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.
There are divergent views in India on this issue -- on one hand, some foreign policy strategists maintain that India should play the ‘Taiwan card’ and make China adhere to ‘One India policy’, while on the other hand, some feel that MEA should follow the line of previous Indian governments and get an advance sanction of Mainland China for projects with Taiwan.
Such extreme and divergent views are good for debate but, when it comes to execution, India has to be pragmatic and consider a middle path. India should act sensibly like it did to brush off such incidents without giving them unnecessary publicity. This will help in balancing India-China relations and also help to avoid using Taiwan as a bargaining chip.
Taiwan is a democracy, a perfect example of a bloodless transformation from an authoritarian rule to democracy, thus protecting Taiwan and not throwing it under the bus (read PRC) is a responsibility of democracies like the US and India. What India should also avoid is a prior sanction from PRC or keeping PRC in the loop for all its dealings with Taiwan considering our independent foreign policy and also the fact that PRC too deeply engages with Taiwan.
India should keep engaging ‘unofficially’ with Taiwan without using Taiwan as a leverage which will help Taiwan get some footing in the international arena where PRC is trying to isolate it.
(The author is a researcher and President, Taiwan Alumni Association in India. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)