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With the Indian government's stand to ban a number of suspicious Chinese mobile apps and start of a massive social media campaign by netizens to boycott Chinese products, India's diplomatic ties with China has definitely taken a huge toll. There are chances that it may degrade even further. Given China's policy of illegal cartographic aggression to occupy Indian land, it is high time Indian government revisited its foreign policy to counter China. But when it comes to countering China, it will not going to be a cakewalk for our government because of India's trade relations with China and its enormous potential gains.
While it is true that affects India – Chinese trade relations may have an adverse impact on the Indian economy, it also can't be denied that there are many alternatives of China. Definitely, the first one in the list would be Taiwan. Although there is no formal diplomatic tie between India and Taiwan as a result of the One-China Policy, given the strategic & economic importance of Taiwan, it is high time Indian policymakers reviewed India–Taiwan foreign policy with a new approach.
Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC) was formed in 1949. After the victory of Chinese Communist Party over the Nationalist forces (Kuomintang party) in the Chinese Civil War lasting intermittently between 1927 and 1949, nationalist forces fled to Taiwan, resulting in the separation of the island of Taiwan from China. Since then, both Chinese and Taiwan governments have been officially claiming to be the legitimate government of all of China. No treaty has ever been signed between them and the controversy continues as to whether the Chinese civil war has officially ended or not.
Many countries, including the USA, recognized Taiwan as a separate country but with the shift in diplomatic relation, the USA held the One China Policy, which is the diplomatic recognition of the position of China that there is only one Chinese government. As per One China Policy, any country wishing to establish diplomatic relations with China (People's Republic of China) must sever all formal ties with Taiwan and acknowledge that there is only 'One China'. Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations and World Health Organization, but is a member of WTO by the name Chinese Taipei. As many as 179 of the 193 member states of UN, including India, do not maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Nevertheless, in the year 1995, with the establishment of the India Taipei Association in Taipei and Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre (TECC) in New Delhi, the relation between India and Taiwan started improving progressively. In 2012, Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre was established in Chennai. Both the countries signed "Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement" and "Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement" in 2011. In 2015, Foxconn, a Taiwan-based one of the largest manufacturer of electronic hardware in the world announced an investment of $5 billion in India. Between 1995 and 2018, the bilateral trade turnover has grown manifold from just $934 million to $7.5 billion, which went down to $5.8 billion in 2019. Moreover, Taiwan has granted free e-visa privileges for Indians and also a 30 days visa free stay for eligible Indian visitors. In 2016, India-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Forum was established as a "formal platform for friendship". In 2017, Taiwanese parliamentary delegation visited India which invited criticism from China as well.
Recently, webinars on COVID-19 took place between India and Taiwan, where Taiwan has proposed a regular communication channel with India to link up medical agencies to better cooperate in the fight against COVID-19. Taiwan has also donated one million face masks to India to help in protecting frontline medical workers engaged in the fight against COVID-19, reflecting the medical cooperation between two sides. The masks were handed over by the Ambassador Chung-Kwang Tien of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in New Delhi to Neel Kamal Singh, deputy secretary general of the Indian Red Cross Society. In addition to this, Two BJP MPs Meenakshi Lekhi and Rahul Kaswan, recently, for the first time virtually attended the swearing-in-ceremony of newly elected President of Taiwan Tsai-Ing-Wen, which again invited criticism from Chinese government. Liu Bing, Counsellor (parliament) of the Chinese embassy in New Delhi registered protest against the two Indian MPs by writing to them.
India and Taiwan both are strong democracies. 33.1% population of Taiwan is Buddhists, which establishes religious intimacy between the two societies. Increasing number of India related elements in Taiwan such as Darjeeling tea, Ayurvedic soaps are surely acting as catalysts to develop a stronger bond between the people of both the countries. Taiwan is known for its expertise in the field of hardware manufacturing, construction, mines exploration, electronics and automobiles etc., while India is known for its expertise in the field of software. Hence, collaboration between both tech giants can play a crucial role in success of government initiatives like Make in India, Digital India and Skill India initiative etc., thereby attracting enormous FDI in India which would eventually boost the Indian Economy.
A five-member research delegation of Taiwan's National Chung Hsing University visited Assam in November last year to explore ways to boost tea partnership with Assam. Before a month of that visit, tea experts from Assam were invited by the same university to share their insights about Assam tea in Taiwan. Even before that, Taiwanese officials and delegations had visited Assam as early as in 2011 to establish tea partnership with Assam. This is indeed great news for Assam's tea industry. Economy of Assam would surely get a boost if such collaborations take place. Moreover, Taiwan owns the world-class bamboo resources to produce high quality products, while India has abundant natural bamboo resources. Bamboo partnership is an area which can be focused upon for collaborations.
However, a closer bilateral relationship with Taiwan may upset China as India formally supports One China Policy. Despite economic interests of both the nations, economic exchange is meager between India and Taiwan. Bilateral trade is only around 1% of total trade for both countries. Moreover, there are complaints from Taiwanese entrepreneurs about the complexities to do business in India like no single window clearance, long drawn review process etc.
Closer relationship with Taiwan can help India to understand China's policy in a better way because of Taiwan's proximity with China geo-strategically, linguistically and culturally. India must maintain a pragmatic approach towards Taiwan. Friendship with Taiwan can be highly beneficial for India to review its policy towards China and act accordingly. Though India accepts One China Policy, it should not deter it from having close ties with Taiwan. Rather than the interests of a third country, India should consider its own interests.