By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 22 Nov: On the concluding day of the Valley of Words Literature & Arts Festival held at Hotel Savoy in Mussoorie, yet another very interesting and contemporary topic was discussed – the Indo-Taiwanese relationship and how important it was for both the countries to have a deeper and even strategic partnership. The topic was ‘Strategic Options in the Indo-Pacific’ and the conversation was moderated by Shiv Kunal Verma, a noted military historian and, with him were Dr Mumin Chen, an associate professor in Political Science at Chung Hsing University, and Prof Srikanth Kondapallia, Professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Concerns were expressed by all the three participants regarding the attempts of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to dominate the Indo-Pacific region strategically and politically and how it continued to intimidate Tibet as well as Taiwan. Dr Mumin Chen, who is also a visiting fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, New Delhi, felt that Taiwan and India had many common concerns and a lot more common strategic and economic interests. There was a need for India to become more proactive regarding a deeper Indo-Taiwanese relationship. He added that a lot was changing for the better in this regard in India and even in Taiwan but full scale acceptance and official recognition for Taiwan was yet to come. Stressing that Taiwan was not China as most countries tended to believe, it was a vibrant democracy which wanted deeper relations with countries like India which were also vibrant democracies. Chen observed that, gradually, ties were improving between Taiwan and India, particularly, after Narendra Modi took over as PM of India in 2014. Taiwan considered India as a very crucial partner and wanted to upgrade its relationship. There was lot of hope in Taiwan in this regard but it was a bit unfortunate that few high ranking politicians and officials from India had visited Taiwan. No chief minister from any state had visited Taiwan, so far. Chen admitted that India supported the ‘One China’ policy, which was resulting in the dilemma over full scale recognition to Taiwan. He further admitted that, after the 1949 Maoist Revolution in China, Taiwan, too, was opposed to Tibet as an independent country but things had changed much after democracy got well rooted in Taiwan. Taiwan was now in favour of sovereignty of Tibet and was opposed to China’s relentless actions regarding destruction of culture and religious identity of the Tibetan people. He added that things had improved much between the Tibetans in exile in India and the Taiwanese. Even the Dalai Lama had visited Taiwan thrice, so far. Chen added that it was perhaps time to get rid of political barriers between the two democratic countries and to upgrade the relationship and extend cooperation in many key areas between India and Taiwan.
Chen also expressed the desire of Taiwan for its inclusion and that of other smaller Indo-Pacific countries in the recently constituted Quad Organisation, a strategic alliance of US, India, Australia and Japan. He also reminded that Taiwan has excellent relationship with Vietnam and looked forward to further improving its relationship with other ASEAN countries. He said that China was also increasingly showing its belligerence against Taiwan. Quad members ought to consider inviting Taiwan as a partner because they all shared common values and faced the same threat in the form of China. Chen further claimed that China was pursuing its evil designs regarding of Taiwan and was taking action to militarise the South China Sea, too. It was now staking claim to some of the islands traditionally in control of Taiwan. Unfortunately, Taiwan, not being member of any strategic international forum like the UN, was unable to submit its views. Chan added that war was not an option but Taiwan intended to defend its territory even if it had to do it militarily.
Prof Srikanth Kondapalli was of the opinion that India and China were signatories to the One China and One India policies in the 1950s, when India had unambiguously declared Taiwan to be part of One China. India started making a shift in its stand by increasing its interactions with Taiwan under the premiership of PV Narsimha Rao and, further, under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However, in 2008, the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, again re-emphasised the One China policy. This was despite the fact that China had reneged on its policy of One India and conveniently ignored India’s stand on Kashmir, while India continued with the hangover of the last century and even the 2008 resolution. However, recent conflicts that China forced on India as in Doklam or Galwan or supported Pakistan on Kashmir, ignoring Pakistan’s support to the Khalistan movement did provide India an opportunity to abandon this One China Policy. Unfortunately, several such opportunities had been missed by India. This was the result of the conservative mindset in India’s polity and its diplomats and bureaucracy. Under the present circumstances, India ought to feel free to revise its One China Policy. He opined that China traditionally did not have a strong naval military presence but, in recent years, it had exponentially grown its naval capabilities, had modernised its naval infrastructure and was now looking to dominate South China Sea which was the route for 55 percent of India’s external trade. China had become an economic power in the past two decades and was pumping money into strengthening its military capabilities as well as developing indigenous defence technologies in order to dominate the entire Indo- Pacific region.
Kondapalli pointed out that Taiwan could be a small country but it was technologically quite advanced, particularly in many modern defence and sophisticated naval surveillance technologies. India could look for deeper cooperation in this sector.
In response to a question in this regard asked by Shiv Kunal Verma, Chen said that, while India could keep its engagement with other countries for heavy warfare equipment, Taiwan and India could cooperate in some sectors such as defence logistics and military hospital infrastructure where Taiwan had advanced technology to offer. He also added that Taiwan understood the importance of cyber security and the threats that could be posed to break into cyber security of a country and, therefore, it had placed adequate focus on this field. India and Taiwan had a lot of potential for cooperation in this regard. He claimed that Taiwanese companies had a lot to offer India since the present trade level between the two countries was not very significant, but they were not very much knowledgeable about Indian markets. When asked about possible impact in respect of Taiwan if Biden came to power in US, Chen admitted that, traditionally, Taiwan preferred Republicans as against the Democrat Presidents, as they had been more supportive of Taiwan. He added, though, that things had moved forward so much that, even with Biden as US President, a radical change was not feasible even for the US.
Interestingly, a debate was also hosted at the Valley of Words, today, on the subject whether India should recognise Tibet and Taiwan. It was adjudicated by a jury comprising Dr Jaskiran Chopra, Jyoti Dhawan and Dr PK Sharma.