Why it’s imperative that India and Taiwan build deeper diplomatic ties

Published on September 8, 2020

Both nations should consider cooperation in business and trade to keep China’s aggression at bay

By Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen and Shivangi Dikshit

The Washington Times – September 8, 2020

India has been supportive of the “One China” policy to date, but at the same time has also maintained relations with Taiwan. The tensions between India and China in recent months have made imperative the forging of greater ties between New Delhi and Taipei.

India is hesitant to make firmer diplomatic dealings with Taiwan, but they can cooperate and or collaborate in areas of their shared interests and goals in Southeast Asia, the major theater of Chinese influence.

Both countries have introduced policies to have a greater presence in Southeast Asia. India’s Act East Policy (AEP) promised intensified economic, strategic and diplomatic interactions in Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific, especially with states that share common concerns with India on China’s growing economic and military strength and its consequences for the evolving regional and global order.

The AEP aims to broaden India’s eastern partners and bring nations like Australia and New Zealand close to India. The policy intends to assure India’s existence in the region in economic, political and military spheres.

Similarly, after coming to power in 2016, President Tsai Ing-wen wanted to expand Taiwan’s economic partners. Her government launched the New Southbound Policy (NSP) to enhance cooperation and exchange between Taiwan and 18 countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Australasia.

Taiwan’s NSP can be seen as an attempt to create its own identity, like other countries which have significant benefits to offer to the world. It is a step by the government to reclaim its identity and also build relationships with neighboring countries in areas such as business, trade, education, tourism and people‐to‐people interaction.

Another similarity between AEP and NSP is that both nations aim to expand their presence in Southeast Asia and in the larger Asia-Pacific. They both want to increase trade, cultural ties and people-to-people ties with the region. They also aim to gain political and economic benefits from their partners in the neighborhood.

As both AEP and NSP have similar goals, it would be wise for India and Taiwan to work together in achieving their common goals. The rising aggressiveness of China in the region has prompted countries in Southeast Asia as well as outside powers and groups like QUAD to rethink their relations with Taiwan.

India is facing increasing pressure from China at its northern borders and at its northeastern frontier areas. New Delhi has taken certain actions against Beijing and is moving closer to countries that can balance or challenge the Chinese aggression.

Due to the One China policy, Taiwan shares a complex form of relationship with India. Though India may hesitate in providing Taiwan stronger diplomatic support globally, it can enhance its bilateral relations. Both India and Taiwan should consider cooperating with each other in areas such as education, science, information technology, health care and agriculture to strengthen their economy and reduce their dependence on China.

The rise of China is highly dependent on its economic and military powers, as well as its relations with states in Southeast Asia and around the world. Both India and Taiwan should aim to reduce the economic dependence of the Southeast Asian economy on China by making larger investments and trade bilaterally, as well as with Southeast Asia.

Often, India, Taiwan and the Southeast Asian nations are unable to take aggressive actions against China due to their exceedingly integrated economic ties. Lesser dependence on China will allow the nations to have the leverage to take tougher steps to curtail Beijing’s influence.

Currently, nations and the MNCs are looking for Chinese alternatives in the field of science and information technology, and in the manufacturing sector. Taiwan is a leading power in the field of science and technology, and it can be a reliable substitute to China. India should establish itself as a manufacturing hub that would make it an alternative to China. New Delhi and Taipei should aim for firmer ties with Southeast Asia in these areas.

Larger interactions with the region will allow Taipei to maintain its position as the Asian Silicon Valley. Taiwan along with Indian companies can develop a safe and secure 5G network for Southeast Asia and beyond. On the other hand, India with its dipping GDP must project itself as a hustle-free manufacturing hub for such projects, which will allow New Delhi to support its economy and also projects like “Digital India Initiative” and “Make in India Initiative.”

Other than economic relations, India and Taiwan can collaborate in areas such as assistance and disaster relief. These would allow both to increase their presence in the region. Such steps will permit them to counterbalance the influence of China. They can also collaborate in providing maritime security to the region. This will also fall in line with the aims of India and the ASEAN to promote the UNCLOS to solve maritime disputes in the region.

India shares cordial relations with nations in the region. Deeper relations with India will allow Taiwan to further develop its relations with the ASEAN nations. Taiwan, which has an aging population, requires partners to continue its economic growth and for maintaining its security.

Therefore, Taiwan needs to make efforts to improve its relations with the ASEAN member states as it brings together a significant proportion of the global population, including major economic and military powers to the region.

India and Taiwan share cultural ties with Southeast Asia. Buddhism, which finds its roots in India, is largely practiced in Southeast Asia. A virtual experience of places of religious importance can and should be encouraged.

Both states can even encourage tourism by having lenient travel policies for the citizens of Southeast Asian nations. They can have joint tourist tours and plans with the ASEAN nations to enhance people-to-people interaction in the region.

Both states could promote educational ties with the region. A special focus should be on students and youth who are the future leaders and voice of the respective nations. Their viewpoints will shape the upcoming policies of ASEAN and Southeast Asia.

It is essential that both India and Taiwan create an image of promising partners in the eyes of the people in the region and beyond. Joint research and educational collaborations by think tanks, research organizations, educational institutions can play a major role in enhancing people-to-people relations between India, Taiwan and Southeast Asia.

Therefore, it is imperative that India and Taiwan build deeper diplomatic ties. It will be for the benefit of both parties to establish closer relations in all possible areas to check and counter the increasingly aggressive China.

Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen is a political scientist, associate professor, assistant dean and executive director at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS), Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University. Shivangi Dikshit is a research assistant at CSEAS.

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