For very long India’s Taiwan policy has been hyphenated with its ties with Beijing. Over the past few years, India however has strengthened economic ties with Taiwan, and a number of Taiwanese companies including Foxconn have invested in India. The Taiwanese electronics maker has promised to invest 5 Billion USD over the next 5 years in a manufacturing plant in Maharashtra. Bilateral trade between both countries, estimated at 5 Billion USD, is of course way below the actual potential, though it has steadily risen over the years. Taiwanese investments in India too have witnessed a rise, but there is scope for increasing the same. In addition to this, there have also been efforts to strengthen political ties, and enhance people to people contact. One of the major steps taken for giving a fillip to tourism and people to people contact is liberalization of visas. Indians can now apply for a Taiwan visa online.
Beijing does not seem to be comfortable with India reaching out to Taiwan, especially engagement with Taiwanese political leaders. An article titled, “New Delhi will suffer losses if it plays Taiwan card” that appeared in the Global Times warns India about not trying to use Taiwan as a leverage against China. The immediate provocation for the same was the three-day visit of a Parliamentary Delegation comprising members of the Taiwan-India Parliamentary Friendship Association from Taiwan. The article says, “By challenging China over the Taiwan question, India is playing with fire.”
The article points out that the US President Donald Trump who initially spoke about challenging the One China Policy, and received a call from Taiwanese President and broke convention in doing so, has now changed course; and that India continues to provoke China yet. While India did not speak about challenging the One China Policy, the leader of the delegation spoke about the need to move away from the existing status quo. Yet, both sides laid greater emphasis on closer engagement in the economic sphere and the need for pragmatic engagement. The leader of the delegation made a significant point – “Taiwanese investor interest in India is growing across the board. Not only big companies like Foxconn, but Taiwanese small and medium enterprises too can succeed in India. Our New Southbound Policy of economic diversification has India as a focus country. And Taiwan can offer its expertise for Indian government initiatives like Smart Cities and Make in India.”
There is a realization among the officials of the Indian Government as well as the strategic community that India’s Taiwan policy should not be knee jerk, and that it needs to be mature. The change which has taken place in recent years however is that New Delhi is no longer willing to allow China to dictate its Taiwan policy. Even before the Parliamentary Delegation visited India recently, it would be pertinent to point out that there were stopovers by top leaders of Taiwan in recent years. India will allow Taiwan vice-president Wu Den-yih a layover at a Delhi airport en route to Rome Saturday morning.India will allow Taiwan vice-president Wu Den-yih a layover at a Delhi airport en route to Rome Saturday morning.In India will allow Taiwan vice-president Wu Den-yih a layover at a Delhi airport en route to Rome Saturday morning.2012 it allowed a layover to Taiwanese President, Ma Ying Jeou while in April 2014, India granted Taiwan’s Vice President Wu Den Yih a layover en route to Rome. Beijing objected to these stopovers as well. The Taipei Economic and Cultural Center was established in Chennai, much to China’s chagrin.
The current President, Tsai Ing Wen made it clear after taking over that one of her key priorities was strengthening ties with 18 countries in the Asia-Pacific, including India, dubbing this policy as the ‘New Southbound Policy’. India took note of this, and welcomed this. The article in the Global Times, of course makes the point loud and clear that the new Taiwanese President is playing a very dangerous game. It is argued in the article that “India wants benefits from the development of trade with Taiwan and Taiwanese investment. But it should be wary of Tsai’s political intentions and avoid being used to confront the mainland...Pro-independence forces in Taiwan have become more isolated in the world. Those who want to use the Taiwan question to contain the mainland will have to suffer losses.”
As mentioned earlier, India can benefit immensely from Taiwan, in a number of areas like technology and this could give a boost to India’s programmes like ‘Digital India’, the smart city project as well as the ‘Make in India’. Connie Hui-Chan Chang, Director General of Taiwan’s Department of Overall Planning in the National Development Council while interacting with a group of visiting journalists from India, in February 2017, spoke about the possibility of cooperation in areas like technology, smart cities as well as clean energy.
India should seek to further strengthen ties with Taiwan in the economic sphere, with a renewed vigour. A number of Taiwanese companies have expressed a willingness to invest in India, which includes both large companies as well as smaller ones.
Firstly, India should address the concerns of Taiwanese investors, not just big ones but small and medium enterprises as well.
Second, India should enhance connectivity between both countries. In this respect, the connectivity agreement signed in September 2016, aims to operate 14 direct passenger services from each side per week, as opposed to the three direct passenger flights and one cargo flight per week currently. An increase in direct flights would help not just businesses on both sides, but also give a boost to tourism. Tourism has already witnessed a rise with the number of Indian tourists to Taiwan estimated at 40,000. This however, is way below the potential, and efforts should be made to raise the numbers.
Third, Taiwanese companies have invested in a number of states including Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, and investors are exploring opportunities in other states. Such states should engage more closely with Taiwan. When Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat, a number of Taiwanese delegations visited the state. Apart from exchanges between parliamentarians, interactions between state government officials should be encouraged.
In the strategic sphere, it is important for India to make Taiwan a part of its Act East Policy, and explore synergies with Taiwan’s Southbound policy.
In the sphere of education it is important to enhance linkages between both countries, given that there is a growing interest of India in Taiwan, and a number of Indian students are showing greater interest. Currently, there are 1000 Indian students in Taiwan and the new administration is seeking to increase this number. The Southbound policy seeks to attract more students.
Connie Hui Chang during her interaction with Indian journalists stated, “We want more Asian students to come and study in Taiwan and work here and we have scholarships to offer.”
In conclusion, the India-Taiwan relationship is an important one and there are numerous synergies between the two countries. It is too important a relationship to be linked solely with the China factor. India needs to bring on board new stakeholders and encourage greater interactions between civil societies of both countries.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.