Written by Jasinder Singh Sodhi.
Image credit: Narendra Modi by Prachatai/ Flickr, license: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Relations between India and Taiwan have improved significantly over the last two decades, even though the two nations do not have formal diplomatic ties. This is because India officially recognises China as part of its One-China Policy.
To strengthen the relations between the two nations, Taiwan established the Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre (TECC) in New Delhi in 1995. India opened the India Taipei Association (ITA) in Taipei to reciprocate. TECC and ITA have played a pivotal role in developing their relationship. In the subsequent years, they assisted India and Taiwan in signing bilateral agreements in various fields, such as civil aviation and agriculture.
From an economic standpoint, Taiwan ranks 21st in the world with a GDP of US$ 850 billion, while India ranks fifth with a GDP of US$ 3.3 trillion. However, Taiwan is an important trading partner to India. Taiwan, the world leader in semiconductors and a dependable exporter of audio-video products, base metals, plastics & rubber, and machinery, has access to a vast market in India with a population of 1.39 billion. Until 2019, trade between India and Taiwan amounted to US$ 7 billion, expanding by 20% annually (YoY).
In the political field, India and Taiwan are both grappling with the Chinese standoff in the Himalayas and Taiwan Strait, respectively. Therefore, reinforcing India-Taiwan relations can stand up to the expansionist plans of China since China is incapable of launching a two-front war on India and Taiwan simultaneously. Thus, the stronger relations India and Taiwan have, the better results it will have for mutual national interest and national security.
India-Taiwan Relation: A Historical Perspective
In the past, India and Taiwan’s relations used to be close. Much before India’s independence in 1947 and Taiwan’s creation in 1949, India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Taiwan’s first President Chiang Kai-shek shared a long bond of friendship.
In 1939, as the Republic of China’s honoured guest, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru praised Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Song Meiling for their stellar leadership. During this visit, one night, when the Japanese bombers attacked Chongqing, Jawaharlal Nehru and Chiang Kai-shek spent the entire night in a bunker as the air raids continued in full force and fury. In return, Chiang Kai-shek visited British-ruled India in 1942 and met the prominent Indian leaders fighting for India’s independence – Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and assured them of full support for India’s independence. But on the other hand, Chiang Kai-shek, a visionary leader, opposed Muhammed Ali Jinnah’s call for a separate nation to be carved out of India for Muslims.
However, Jawaharlal Nehru’s attitude towards Chiang Kai-shek changed drastically following India’s independence in 1947 and the retreat of the Republic of China to Taiwan after the 1945-1949 Chinese civil war. Then, he cold-shouldered Chiang Kai-shek to move closer to communist China, also known as the People’s Republic of China, for fear that China would ferment domestic communist unrest in India.
He was unaware that China would cause tremendous problems for India many years later. The 1962 India-China War highlighted the fact that China could not be relied upon because it would also create trouble for India.
The tension between India and China, and then the Friendly Lean toward Taiwan
In 2010, China refused to stamp the passports of Jammu & Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh residents who wanted to travel to China, instead issuing them visas on a separate slip of paper because Jammu & Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh were disputed territories.
Concerning China’s aggressive attitude, the Indian establishment had started to sound the alarm. Since 2010, India has stopped using One-China in its official documents and press releases. This is a paradigm shift in India’s foreign policy, as India has also suffered from the expansionist policy of China, whether through the 1962 India-China War, the Doklam Crisis of 2017, or the Galwan Valley Standoff of 2020. This paradigm shift in India’s foreign policy has also seen a marked shift in the Taiwanese perception. In a 2010 Gallup poll, 21% of the Taiwanese people approved of India’s leadership which rose to 73.1% in the 2019 survey conducted by National Chengchi University’s Election Study Centre.
In May 2020, two Members of the Indian Parliament virtually attended the inauguration of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen as the Covid-19 pandemic raged worldwide, highlighting a tectonic Indian shift in India’s recognition of Taiwan’s importance.
The current times have two powerful leaders at the helm of the affairs in India and Taiwan: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Tsai Ing-wen, respectively. Under the stewardship of these two leaders, both nations have become a reckonable force in international affairs. President Tsai Ing-wen, with her New Southbound Policy (NSP), aims to enhance cooperation and exchange between Taiwan and 18 countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Australasia. India, which figures in the list of these 18 countries, is one of the strong proponents of Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) and a founding member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, commonly called Quad.
With the Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-Reliant India) and the Make in India initiatives launched by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he assumed power for the first time in 2014, India has now surged to be amongst the top twenty-five arms exporting nations in the world. As a result, semiconductors play a pivotal role in modern defence equipment.
It is high time that India and Taiwan sign a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Work on this aspect already started between the nations in December 2021. It now needs to be finalised without any further delay.
The Future of India-Taiwan Relations
The success of the recent Quad summit on May 24, 2022, in Tokyo had China rattled. As Quad gains more strength, it will prove to be a potent force as it has four nations as its members- USA, India, Australia, and Japan. However, the fact that China has termed QUAD the Asian NATO proves the point of the unease and unhappiness that Quad is giving China.
India and Taiwan should also have bilateral military exercises to benefit from each other’s military doctrines. Furthermore, the Armed Forces Officers of both nations should undergo courses of instruction in the other country. Moreover, the expertise and experience of dealing with China militarily should be exchanged between the Defence Forces of the two nations.
The Quad alliance should take the lead and formally adopt the Two-China policy. This one step will be a game changer in the Indo-Pacific region which will pave the way open for the balance of 179 nations of the world who are yet to diplomatically recognise Taiwan.
The time is also ripe for India to officially recognise Taiwan, and both countries should have diplomatic relations. The symbiotic relations of both nations will be immensely beneficial for each other and will checkmate China.
It is the right time for India-Taiwan relations to move ahead as both countries have strong and spectacular leaders leading them who are internationally admired and adored, President Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India.
Jasinder Singh Sodhi, who retired from the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army, is an alumnus of NDA, Khadakwasla and IIT Kanpur. He is an M.Tech in Structures, has also done MBA and LLB and is a prolific writer and a public speaker. He has been featured in the World Book of Records, London, and the India Book of Records for his articles in the print media and news channel appearances. He Tweets and Koos at @JassiSodhi24. The views expressed are personal.