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Taiwan Gets Public Support In India, But Diplomatic Ties Will Come With China Backlash, Experts Say

Experts said two factors helped Taiwan — its handling of the pandemic, and a loss in China’s reputation over its initial response to Covid-19 and the Ladakh standoff.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen shared pictures from her India visit.
Twitter/@iingwen
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen shared pictures from her India visit.

Last week, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted a photo of an Indian thali with rice, naan and chana masala, adding that her country was lucky to be home to many Indian restaurants.

In the tweet, which got a significant amount of engagement, she also asked Twitter users what their favourite Indian dishes were. The replies came from a range of people, mostly Indians—some urged her to try Mysore masala dosa and chaat, while others thought Chinese food in India should be renamed Taiwanese food.

This wasn’t the first time that the Taiwanese leader’s tweets about India got her attention. A few days before that, she had thanked “friends from India” for following her on Twitter and shared pictures from her visit to the Taj Mahal. These days, Tsai’s tweets often garner many replies from Indians, some of whom inform her that “India stands with Taiwan”.

China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and exercises jurisdiction over it. India has followed the One China policy since the 1950s, and New Delhi does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taipei, but both sides have close business and cultural ties. After the India-China clash in Galwan in July, there were calls in India to upgrade ties with Taiwan (see here, here and here) to irritate Beijing.

In an interview to HuffPost India in June, Probal Dasgupta, an ex-Indian Army officer and author of Watershed 1967: India’s Forgotten Victory Over China, said on the strategic level, he expects the Narendra Modi government to lend a defined voice of support on issues such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.

The Hindu has reported that there has been no change in India’s One China principle. Srikanth Kondapalli, professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said at a session organised by NGO Usanas foundation that the policy was initiated between December 1949 and April 1950.

Reports that India is considering trade talks with Taiwan had drawn a sharp reaction from China earlier this week. India also reacted to China’s advisory to journalists not to refer to Taiwan as a “country” or a “nation”, leading commentators to speculate whether the issue would scale up.

However, experts say that while support for Taiwan in India has grown over the years, this is unlikely to translate into a diplomatic recognition of the country, mainly due to the possibility of a backlash from China. This backlash, they say, could translate into isolating India in the region or even shutting down Indian enterprises in China.

Namrata Hasija, a research associate with the Delhi-based Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, told HuffPost India that two factors have helped Taiwan get more recognition in India in recent months — Taipei’s handling of the pandemic at a time when other countries were floundering, and a loss in China’s reputation over its initial response to Covid-19 and the Ladakh standoff.

She said that while both sides have been working for years to improve ties, the Indian government’s attitude towards China changed after the Galwan clash, in which 20 Indian soldiers died, and it started looking for alternatives after the ban on apps with China links. “Public support for Taiwan has also led the government to consider options with Taiwan,” Hasija added.

A senior Indian government official told Bloomberg that while the Narendra Modi government has till now been reluctant to move ahead with the trade talks with Taiwan, “hawks in India who want to start trade talks are getting the upper hand” over the past few months.

The official added that a trade deal with Taipei would help India’s goal of seeking greater investments in technology and electronics, but it’s unclear when a final decision would be made.

India’s trade with Taiwan grew 18.1% in the 2018-19 period, according to the Department of Commerce’s report. In 2018, New Delhi and Taipei signed an updated bilateral investment agreement to expand economic ties.

Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group is reportedly planning to invest up to $1 billion to expand a factory in the Sriperumbudur plant in Tamil Nadu. Reuters quoted sources as saying some of Apple’s iPhones models, made by Foxconn in China, will be made at the plant.

But despite growing ties with New Delhi and public support, Taiwan is not yet a conversation point in India. Raviprasad Narayanan, Associate Professor at Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, told HuffPost India that Taiwan can only be recognised more in India if its economic visibility and technological modernity presents itself as a successor to what Japan was a few decades ago.

“What India can do to ‘socialise’ Taiwan in the international comity of nations is invite and generate consensus to make Taiwan a full member of WHO,” Narayanan said, adding that with its first-rate medical system and contributions to medical research, Taiwan is an example of a country that has effectively tackled Covid-19.

“Second, Indian bureaucracy needs to make the process easier for Taiwan enterprises to set up factories in India.” He, however, warned of backlash from China.

The backlash

Beijing has expressed its displeasure over Taiwan’s popularity in India and reminded the country of the ‘One China’ policy.

Earlier this month, the Chinese Embassy sent an email to journalists asking them not to refer to Taiwan as a “country” or a “nation” while covering an event organised by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre (TECC) in India, according to The Hindu.

The embassy also reminded the Indian media that China does not recognise Taiwan as an independent country and this should be followed in their coverage.

Reuters reported that China’s opposition came after advertisements were placed in Indian newspapers by Taiwan’s government to mark its national day.

The advertisement carried a photograph of Tsai Ing-wen and hailed India as a natural partner of Taiwan.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs responded by saying that the country’s media is “free”. “There is a free media in India, that reports on issues that they see fit,” MEA said.

China has also opposed the reports about trade talks between New Delhi and Taipei. Its Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, in the daily press briefing on last week, said there is only one China and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory.

“China is firmly opposed to any official exchanges of any form and the signing of any agreement of official nature between Taiwan and any country having diplomatic relations with China. The Indian side should earnestly abide by the one-China principle and handle the Taiwan question prudently and properly.”

State-run Global Times also warned India on Thursday, saying it is “wise” for India at the official level not to consider developing ties with Taiwan. “The Taiwan question will exert a much more detrimental impact on China-India relations than current border spats. Although border disputes have jeopardized bilateral ties, both sides are trying to manage divergences without heading toward hostility,” it said.

Narayanan said that China’s retaliation, if a trade deal with Taiwan goes ahead, can come in the form of closure of Indian enterprises in China and Hong Kong. “India citizens working in China will not have their visas extended. Indian students in China will be asked to leave,” he added.

China can also influence India’s neighbour and isolate it in South Asia. “China could stitch economic arrangements with countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, exposing India as an economic outlier in its own geographical region,” Narayanan added.

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This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost India, which closed in 2020. Some features are no longer enabled. If you have questions or concerns about this article, please contact indiasupport@huffpost.com.