The Role of Non-state Actors in Forging Closer India-Taiwan Relations

Written by Don McLain Gill.

Image credit: narendra-modi-xi-jinping by BMN Network/Flickr, license CC BY 2.0

As Taiwan celebrates its National Day on October 10, the Indian media has played a pivotal role in creating an amiable platform for fostering closer relations between the two peoples. Throughout history, non-state actors such as the media, think tanks, and other organisations have continuously played a crucial role in forging closer ties between Taiwan and India. However, if India continues to appease China vis-à-vis its “One China Policy,” relations between New Delhi and Taipei may not be significantly maximised.

Taiwan’s National Day and the Indian Media

During October 10, Taiwan celebrates its National Day, which is also more commonly known as “Double Tenth Day.” It commemorates the start of the 1911 Wuchang Uprising in China. Moreover, it is a day widely celebrated among Taiwanese at home or abroad.

In India, the National Day of Taiwan became one highly celebrated event with many Indian citizens and top journalists wishing the island nation well on this very momentous and historic day. Moreover, advertisements were placed in top Indian newspapers to mark the democratic island’s national day. These advertisements carried a photograph of President Tsai Ing-wen and hailed India, a fellow democracy, as a natural partner of Taiwan. This is important because it shows that non-state actors can continue to play a pivotal role in creating strong relations between the people of India and Taiwan.

However, ahead of October 10, the Chinese embassy in Delhi wrote to the Indian media and instructed them to refrain from referring to Taiwan as a “nation.” Taiwan then accused this move by Beijing to censor India’s media. Furthermore, Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu told the Chinese embassy to “get lost.” A tweet by Taiwanese Foreign Ministry, said, “India is the largest democracy on Earth with a vibrant press & freedom-loving people. But it looks like communist #China is hoping to march into the subcontinent by imposing censorship. #Taiwan’s Indian friends will have one reply: GET LOST!”

The Indian government also responded to the Chinese embassy’s statement by saying that the Indian media is a “free” entity, and they can report on any issue they deem “fit.” Furthermore, Taiwanese Vice-President Lai Ching-te tweeted, “Proud to see our flag fly high and be recognised all over the world. We thank the people from so many countries who today expressed congratulations and support. Especially our Indian friends. Namaste!”

Think Tank Level Cooperation

Another important bilateral development was spearheaded by the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation (TAEF) and India’s National Maritime Foundation (NMF) on October 9. The two think tanks signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) at the Yushan Forum to deepen Taiwan-India cooperation in maritime affairs and regional development.

The signing of the memorandum marks the think tanks’ consensus on maintaining regional prosperity and peace, which could serve as a foundation for Taiwan-India relations, the TAEF said. Moreover, the agreement marks the beginning of a crucial and long overdue collaboration that would join research on the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean.

This is another crucial non-state level achievement to forward close bilateral relations between India and Taiwan. Furthermore, in their first “closed-door” meeting,  think tanks shared their views on India’s Act East Policy and Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy, which led to the establishment of mutual goals. The New Southbound Policy aims to observe and deepen interaction with partner nations, expand collaborative efforts, and promote mutually friendly environments to further economic, industrial, technological, educational, cultural and tourism partnerships.

Is it Enough? A Way Forward

Despite the existence of several positive and reassuring factors, India-Taiwan relations continue to be underutilised due to a lack of political and economic inertia. This can be traced back to India’s appeasement strategy towards China vis-à-vis the “One China Policy.”

However, it must be noted that India has been slowly deviating from this approach as China continues to engage assertively with the latter. India has stopped referring to the “One China Policy” in all bilateral documents with China since 2010, albeit for a brief blip in the joint statement between India and China during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s in 2014. It can be stated that India’s political-level engagements with Taiwan come against the backdrop of the geopolitical realities it faces in relation to China.

At an economic level, India-Taiwan trade in 2019 stood at $7.5 billion. This number, however, only represents a minuscule portion compared to the actual potential the two sides can still effectively maximise. The lack of political will to carry out a more effective partnership in the state-level has significantly hampered the potential of enhancing India-Taiwan relations.

In conclusion, highlighting noteworthy media contributions and think tanks in forging closer relations between India and Taiwan is essential. However, until New Delhi fully recalibrates its policies towards Taipei, this bilateral relationship will continue to remain underutilised. India must engage with Taiwan beyond the “China factor” and foster a partnership against the backdrop of a mutual democratic polity and a shared vision for a stable Indo-Pacific region.

Don McLain Gill is an international affairs researcher based in the Philippines. He is currently completing his Master’s in International Studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman. He has written extensively on regional geopolitics and Indian foreign policy for various international peer-reviewed journals and other publications.

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