On May 20, Tsai Ing-wen, of the theoretically pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was sworn in as the 14th President of the Republic of China, commonly known to the world as Taiwan. Taiwan has not been ruled from Beijing since it became a Japanese colony in 1895. China, however, regards it as a “renegade province” and imperiously demands its reunification with the mainland, threatening severe consequen-ces if it does not — including war, if it declares independence. Cross-strait relations have survived a particularly ideological DPP President who was in power from 2000-2008. Dr Tsai joined the DPP only in 2004 and is a UK/US-educated technocrat who has not the remotest intention of declaring independence; she wants continuation of mutually beneficial interaction on the basis of existing political ground realties.
Only 22 countries recognise Taiwan as the real China. Over 70 countries that recognise the People’s Republic of China have “unofficial” representation in Taiwan including India. In 1995, India became the 45th country to open an office in Taiwan. The issue had been discussed in detail with China prior to the establishment of the Indian office in Taipei. It was perhaps the most innovative element of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s Look East policy but we have chosen not to reap the benefits.
Having headed India’s office in Taiwan from May 2000 to May 2003, I know from personal interactions with Dr Tsai that she has very warm feelings for India and is exceedingly keen on forging a strong economic and technological partnership between the two countries. She visited India in 2014 on her own initiative in an effort to get to know the country.
In her inaugural speech, she said, “We will also promote a ‘New Southbound Policy’ in order to elevate the scope and diversity of our external economy and to bid farewell to our past over-reliance on a single market… Taiwan has always played an indispensable role in the region’s development... We will share resources, talents and markets with other countries to achieve economies of scale and to allow the efficient use of resources... We will broaden exchanges and cooperation with regional neighbours in areas such as technology, culture and commerce, and expand in particular our dynamic relationships with Asean and India”.
Taiwan exists as a separate self-governing entity, in spite of China’s bullying and threats for many decades, entirely because of the United States’ support. Japan has been very friendly and contributed strongly to Taiwan’s economic growth. They were mentioned but almost en passant much later in the speech: “We will continue to deepen our relationships with friendly democracies, including the United States, Japan and Europe to advance multifaceted cooperation on the basis of shared values”, thus highlighting the importance accorded to India.
Taiwan is the world’s largest investor in China but now Taiwanese businesses want to move out of China — something the Taiwan government encourages. In 2015, Terry Gou, chairman of Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, announced a commitment of a $5 billion investment in Maharashtra as an initial phase of much more ambitious plans — $20 billion.
Foxconn already has manufacturing plants in India. Taiwan is an IT hardware design and manufacturing superpower. It’s high-tech partnership with India would be particularly valuable for making Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visionary platforms such as Make in India, Digital India, Skill India and Smart Cities a success.
Therefore, India should have sent a delegation led by the minister for information technology to the presidential inauguration in Taiwan, not only as an appreciative acknowledgement of Dr Tsai’s special gesture to India, but much more importantly a much-needed, powerful and positive message to the Taiwanese industry and business community. They have great reservations about India because, of all the countries that have offices in Taiwan, India has particularly stringent, entirely self-imposed, restrictions on meaningful interaction with Taiwan.
A minimum alternative would have been a delegation led by the ministry for external affairs’ secretary (economic relations). India decided to send two MPs but then backed out literally at the 11th hour to avoid ruffling Chinese feathers, presumably in the context of the imminent visit of the Indian President to China. Since the dates of his visit to China were known, if India had doubts about attending the inauguration in Taiwan, it should have politely declined the invitation. What India finally managed to do was to snub Taiwan’s India-friendly President.
China would have been smirking with satisfaction, greatly amused by India’s utterly pathetic and extraordinarily self-demeaning effort to please it. Last year Sino-Indian bilateral trade had a massive trade deficit of nearly $50 billion, yet despite years of Indian entreaties China continues to deny market access to India for pharmaceuticals and IT services. From a few days before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India, throughout his visit and even afterwards, hundreds of PLA troops were camped deep inside Indian territory.
China flamboyantly opposes India’s membership of the NSG. It has also single-handedly prevented the designation of Hafiz Saeed as an international terrorist despite India taking up the issue with China repeatedly at every conceivable level. China is doing whatever it pleases in PoK, including implementing multi-billion dollar projects, but blocks ADB funding for development projects in Arunachal Pradesh; while thousands of PLA troops are stationed in PoK, Gilgit and Gwadar.
India’s top leaders have shown extreme reluctance in meeting the Dalai Lama and visiting Arunachal Pradesh. China does not care a hoot about Indian sensitivities but India is constantly looking over its shoulder, anxious about China’s reaction even to the most utterly innocuous things. This is certainly not how a putative great power should be behaving. India aspires to be on the global high table and wants permanent membership of the UN Security Council, but does it deserve to be there? The contrast between the messages the Chinese send and those sent to China by us says it all! No wonder Pakistan, China’s pet client, gets away with mayhem vis-à-vis India.