Time for India to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership with Taiwan

The inhibitions of the Indian government to upgrade relations with Taiwan are baffling. It stems from keeping the military out of strategic security formulations, status quo bureaucratic advice and needless fear of China, writes Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (retd) for South Asia Monitor

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Amid news of India-Taiwan trade talks in Indian media, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian stated that China was “firmly opposed to any official exchanges of any form and the signing of any agreement of official nature between Taiwan and any country having diplomatic relations with China. The Indian side should earnestly abide by the One-China principle and handle the Taiwan question prudently and properly.”

One wonders if Zhao knows that India is firmly opposed to China violating India’s territorial integrity, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) presence in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), illegal occupation of Indian territories of Shaksgam and Aksai Chin, illegal claims to Indian territories, supporting insurgencies in India, including in the Northeast for the past 70 years, and the ongoing aggression-cum-intrusions in Eastern Ladakh.

The India-Taipei Association is the representative office of India in Taiwan, which was established in 1995. Headed by a Director-General, it is a de facto embassy in absence of diplomatic relations. Taiwan has maintained the Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre in India at New Delhi which has the presence of ‘some’ military officers in civil attire, unlike the embassy of China at New Delhi, which is crammed full with PLA officers in addition to the uniformed defense attaché. In 2012, India approved the opening of a branch office (akin to a consulate) of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre at Chennai.

India, Taiwan growing economic ties

Both India and Taiwan have been endeavoring to expand bilateral trade and investments especially in the field of information technology, energy, telecommunications, and electronics. Major Taiwanese exports to India include integrated circuits, machinery, and other electronic products. 

In 2018, India and Taiwan signed an updated bilateral investment agreement to expand economic ties. Investments by Taiwanese firms in India had reached $360.5 million by the end of 2018. Bilateral trade between the two countries grew 18 percent to $7.2 billion in 2019. 

Currently, some 140 Taiwanese firms are operating in India. In early October 2020, the Indian government gave approval to firms, including Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group, Wistron Corp and Pegatron Corp to attract investment of over $143 billion for smart-phone production over five years. According to the Taiwan Government’s InvesTaiwan's office, "Taiwan investors considering India see a huge domestic market and ample labor."

India-Taiwan trade talks get China’s hackles up

The news about possible India-Taiwan trade talks have got Beijing’s hackles up but trade between India and Taiwan has been ongoing past several decades of which China is aware of. So having trade talks with Taiwan should not be a problem.

India had reportedly proposed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Taiwan in 2011 but nothing was heard about it thereafter. With ongoing bilateral trade, inking an FTA too should not be problematic ignoring Beijing’s bullying. Hopefully, the news of possible trade talks with Taiwan is not mere political jingoism which has become the hallmark of the Indian government.

Foreign media recently quoted an unnamed senior Indian government official saying that over the last few months, the "China hawks” who want trade talks with Taiwan have gotten an upper hand. But the government official failed to mention that the ‘mice in the establishment’ who are scared to death for ‘annoying the dragon’ and those who may be on Beijing’s ‘payroll’ will fight tooth and nail to not let this happen. Taiwan has sought a trade deal with India for several years, but the Indian government has been mortally scared of China’s reaction.

Mutual gain in stronger ties 

Both India and Taiwan has much to gain economically and strategically by upgrading a mutual partnership. For example, India has a large deficit in semiconductors. It may be recalled that a few years back when India showed interest in buying a chip-manufacturing facility in South Korea, China straightway blocked that by offering a much higher price just to deny India the facility. Presently, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), which is a supplier for Apple, is to build a semiconductor facility in Arizona, USA, with total spending on the project being $12 billion. The establishment of similar facilities in India is the need of the hour.

The inhibitions of the Indian government to upgrade relations with Taiwan are baffling. It stems from keeping the military out of strategic security formulations, status quo bureaucratic advice and needless fear of China. After all what more can China do against India from what it has already done and is doing; China not recognizing Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh part of India, anti-India activities in India’s immediate neighborhood, aside from above mentioned activities.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and China’s Communist Party are rogue bullies of the first order. A bully needs to be stared back in the eyes because showing meekness makes the bully mount the opponent’s head. Ironically, the Indian government continues to be scared of showing the mirror to China. Whether India will be able to break the euphemism of ‘annoying the dragon’, only time will tell.

India needs to establish full diplomatic relations and a comprehensive strategic partnership with Taiwan, leave aside trade talks and a trade deal. Where China is establishing a missile shield in POK, why should India not export BrahMos supersonic missiles to Taiwan? To China’s audacious call for respecting ‘One China’ policy, China should be bluntly told to first respect ‘One India’, vacate all Indian territories and renounce all illegal claims to Indian territories or keep quiet.  

(The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal)

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