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    South Asia
     Oct 5, 2012


SPEAKING FREELY
India renews Taiwan embrace
By Anindya Batabyal

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

Although India recognizes the government of the People's Republic of China (mainland China) instead of the government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) as the legitimate government of the territory of China, relations between India and Taiwan have grown substantially since the two countries had set up representative offices in each other's capitals in 1995.

The economic imperatives of India's Look East policy initiated since the early 1990s led to the establishment of bilateral ties that year through the opening of unofficial consular offices named as "Cultural Centers" in both New Delhi and Taipei. India's foray into Northeast Asia started to take place at the same time that the

 
government in Taiwan was actively trying to diversify its international economic linkages away from mainland China, which accounts for more than two-thirds of its overseas investments, and more towards Southeast Asia and beyond. It is against this backdrop that there has occurred a substantial progress in bilateral ties between India and Taiwan in the last one decade.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou's brief stopover at Mumbai where his plane landed for refueling on his way to three African countries in April 2012 further reflected substantial progress in India-Taiwan bilateral ties in the last few years. It is significant that President Ma's flight was scheduled to refuel at Dubai and the change to Mumbai was only announced at the last minute. India's decision to allow refueling of President Ma's plane at Mumbai comes at a time when relations between mainland China and Taiwan are at their warmest in the last 63 years.

India's rapid economic growth has of-late outpaced that of Japan and even the United States, demonstrating its strong potential for development. India, the largest country in South Asia is also one of the five BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Therefore, Taiwan attaches great importance to its relations with an emerging power like India. It is also important to note in this connection that there exists a strong political consensus within Taiwan on the importance of forging a robust partnership with India in future as part of Taiwan's overall global strategy. This was stated by Taiwan's former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen during her trip to India in September.

Since the establishment of representative offices in each other's capitals in 1995, there has been a steady growth in the overall facets of India-Taiwan bilateral ties, particularly in the economic arena. Two-way trade has jumped from US$930 million in 1995 to $7.5 billion in 2011. One of the areas for enhancing further cooperation is the information technology (IT) sector where both India and Taiwan complement each other. India is also a major manufacturing centre for automobiles and a world leader in small car production.

According to the India-Taipei association, Taiwan's strength is in auto components and the manufacturers from these two countries can team up to create better products. There is also a possibility of signing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and Taiwan sometime later in 2012 and a feasibility study for reaching such an agreement has begun in February 2012. For Taiwan, it appears that India constitutes a huge market waiting to be explored.

However, from 2001 to 2010, India accounted for only 0.04% of all Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Taiwan, while only 0.03% of Taiwanese outgoing investments went to South Asia. Compared with Taiwan's overall trade of almost $70 billion with the Southeast Asian countries and around $200 billion with mainland China, there lies ample scope for further development of India-Taiwan trade ties. In fact, China has emerged as Taiwan's largest trade partner while Taiwan has become China's seventh-largest. But the Taiwan government is also encouraging its business enterprises to invest more in India, an emerging economic powerhouse, instead of putting all their eggs in one basket. Increasing investments in countries like India is expected to lessen Taiwan's dependence on the Chinese market.

Opinion is divided among scholars, particularly in India, on the reasons behind the recent upsurge in bilateral ties between India and Taiwan. One view is that the present bonhomie between India and Taiwan is a result of improved cross-strait relations, which have never been as cordial as they are at the present moment.

Since Ma Ying Jeou of the Kuomintang became president in March 2008, his administration's cross-strait' policy has resulted in reduced tensions between China and Taiwan, which had a knock-on effect on India's policy towards Taiwan. President Ma's administration's efforts include its push for closer cross-strait economic ties, increasing the frequency of flights between China and Taiwan, allowing independent minded Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan and Taipei's signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with China.

However, there is also another view which sees the growing relations as part of an Indian strategy to challenge China diplomatically. For example, India has entered the fray in the South China Sea dispute, infuriating China, by agreeing to undertake last year joint oil exploration in a disputed area with Vietnam. Moreover, in November 2011, the scheduled meeting of the India-China boundary talks was suddenly cancelled as India refused to budge on the issue of allowing Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama to address the world congregation of Buddhists at New Delhi.

China was unhappy because the dates of the Buddhist congregation coincided with the dates of the Sino-Indian boundary talks. The stand taken by the Indian government is significant because in the past few decades, India had taken special care to make sure that it does not do anything to antagonizes the Chinese government, particularly on issues like Taiwan and Tibet.

Moreover, a quiet diplomatic competition has also emerged between India and China in the last few years over the Chinese policy of issuing visas to Indian citizens domiciled in Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. By issuing or denying visas particularly to Indian citizens domiciled in the Indian province of Arunachal Pradesh, China has tried to put a question mark over the territorial status of both Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh.

However, India in recent times has tried in a subtle way to send a message to China that it will be less sensitive to Chinese interests including matters related to Taiwan and Tibet if China does not show the required sensitivity towards India's core interests on matters concerning Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. Therefore, cultivating closer links with Taiwan is part of the overall Indian strategy to counter growing Chinese attempts to put political and strategic pressure by needling India on the sensitive issues like Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. A section of the academic community and national security establishment in India is of the view that India needs to cultivate closer ties with Taiwan in order to counter China's consistent policy of strategically encircling India through building intimate economic and military ties with countries like Pakistan and Myanmar.

Taiwan and India have made significant progress over the past few years, with collaborative measures in the field of education, economy and culture. In addition, India hosted several high ranking Taiwanese delegations including several top ranking Taiwanese officials. In line with this view, India's foreign policy has become more assertive in recent times in the face of pressure from China without in any way violating its long held one-China policy.

Therefore, India's consent to the visit of many Taiwanese political leaders in India in recent times including allowing President Ma's brief stopover at Mumbai in April 2012 signified India's desire to expand exchanges with Taiwan in various sectors and to enhance bilateral ties irrespective of its impact on India's bilateral relations with China.

It appears that India's close bilateral ties with Taiwan at present are a result of both improved China-Taiwan ties while also reflecting a new level of assertiveness in India's foreign policy towards China. It has also been said in some quarters that India is likely to become one of the most important partners in Taiwan's global strategic arrangement regardless of which political party remains in power in Taiwan.

In fact, improved cross-strait relations have only acted as a catalyst for the present upsurge in India-Taiwan bilateral ties. In this respect, it will be interesting to see the kind of policy India adopts towards Taiwan when China-Taiwan ties deteriorate at any time in the foreseeable future. However, there are strong indications about a desire on part of both sides to become more knowledgeable about each other in diverse areas and this could lay the foundation for the consolidation of the symbiotic partnership that is emerging between India and Taiwan at the beginning of the 21st century.

Anindya Batabyal is an assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Kalyani, West Bengal, India. His research publications have appeared in peer-reviewed academic journals including International Studies and China Report.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

(Copyright 2012 Anindya Batabyal) 





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