Context: The India-China border stand-off in the Galwan Valley, is a reminder of India’s perennial problems with China. This necessitates India to adopt an out of box policy such as deepening relationship with Taiwan.

Background of recent India-China tensions

  • China’s hardline approach towards India
    • The statements issued by Chinese government officials and the ministry of foreign affairs have made it clear that they are in no mood for a rapprochement.
    • What these clashes have confirmed is that this is not just about differing perceptions of the boundary, but China’s blatant attempts to change the status quo. 
  • Actions of China are in clear violation of the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the India-China border areas signed in 1993. 
  • Resolving the dispute
    • A full-fledged conflict is not in the interest of either country. In this scenario, India has no option but to engage China in a dialogue to defuse tensions.
    • But dialogue and confidence-building measures alone will not lead India towards a resolution of the problem. Past experiences show that China goes for boundary dispute resolutions only when it finds that the gains are tangible. 
  • Need of out of the box solutions for India
    • China’s aggressive posture towards India and the boundary dispute set the right context for why there could not be a better time for India to engage Taiwan meaningfully.
    • While ties with Taiwan should not be solely viewed through China’s lens, this has given a chance to both India and Taiwan to introspect on their policies and reach out to each other.

India’s current relations with Taiwan

  • Vision of the Indo-Pacific
    • Taiwan is already a part of the United States’ Indo-Pacific vision. It is surely an important geographical entity in the Indo-Pacific region. 
    • India’s vision of the Indo-Pacific is inclusive and it must encourage the participation of Taiwan and other like-minded countries. 
  • Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy
    • India is already a major focus country in New Southbound Policy by the current government of Taiwan, launched in 2016. 
    • Under this policy, Taiwan aims to increase its international profile by expanding political, economic, and people-to-people linkages. 
    • Unlike previous governments’ Go South policies, the New Southbound Policy is not about reducing dependence on China, but reaching out to countries of importance. 
      • For the first time, Taiwan has officially started looking towards the six South Asian countries — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. 
    • India is certainly a steering wheel for Taiwan’s deepening engagement in the South Asian region.
  • One-China policy perspective
    • India currently does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan yet as it adheres to the One-China policy.
    • However, there are instances of deviation from the one-China policy by India
      • During the then Chinese premier visit to India in December 2010, India took a bold step by not mentioning support for China’s One-China policy in the joint communique released on December 16. 
      • Also, in 2014, India adopted an out-of-the-box approach by inviting Taiwan’s representative to India, along with, president of the Central Tibetan Administration to his 2014 swearing-in ceremony.
      • Recently, two Indian parliamentarians also virtually attended the swearing-in ceremony of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.
  • Non-consistent approach by India
    • Despite China’s disregard for India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, in both letter and spirit, India has not shown consistency in maintaining relations with Taiwan.
    • India’s China policy and its focus on stabilizing relations with China have led to the marginalization of Taiwan.
      • When China protested the visit of an all-women parliamentarian delegation from Taiwan to India in 2018, the momentum in India-Taiwan ties further slowed down.

Way ahead

  • Utilizing Taiwan’s position
    • Best practices in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic
      • Taiwan has had remarkable success in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. This is interesting given how more developed and powerful states have faltered in handling the crisis. 
      • However, Taiwan was not even offered an international platform where it could share its best practices. Denying Taiwan a place at the World Health Assembly is a case in point. 
      • India also has not tried to engage Taiwan in dealing with the pandemic. Through its response to COVID-19, Taiwan has shown that it is beneficial to engage with it.
    • Taiwan’s possible role in the emerging Indo-Pacific order
      • Currently, Taiwan’s possible role in the emerging Indo-Pacific order has been under-appreciated. 
      • Therefore India’s foreign policy priorities, particularly with regard to the Indo-Pacific, should accommodate Taiwan. 
  • Moving away from the traditional approach
    • Along with military preparedness and aligning interests with key countries, Taiwan needs to be included prominently in India’s long-term strategy towards China.
    • India can no longer just rely on the transactional and need-based policies of major powers. 
    • Ultimately, India has to explore alternative approaches. This makes even more sense when Taiwan is willing to strengthen ties with India and even domestic debate is tilting in favor of this.

It is time India reviews its policy towards Taiwan and engages with it more comprehensively.