India-Taiwan relations: Strategic cooperation need of the hour

Instead of viewing Taipei as a ‘card’ to be played every time Beijing provokes New Delhi, it is necessary to look at Taiwan as a country with which it can build a vibrant commercial and strategic partnership

By Namrata Hasija

New Delhi: The recent splurge of articles in the Indian media calling for promoting collaborative ties with Taiwan come with a background of deteriorating India-China relations. Former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao’s observation that “Establishing a relationship with Taiwan should not spoil our relationship with PRC, which is far more important than the ROC (Republic of China) to the Indian establishment” has now receded.

Since the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s advent to power in 2001, Taiwan has been keen to develop military and strategic cooperation to counter China in the region. India, however, opted for caution and did not respond to Taiwan’s overtures as it preferred not to provoke China. The Indian establishment has always looked at Taiwan through a Chinese prism. India has followed a ‘One China policy’, though not a ‘One-China principle’ even though till 2008 we have used it interchangeably. Accordingly India merely acknowledges that there is only one Chinese government, that is, the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  

With the changing geopolitical scenario in the region especially India should now actively consider upgrading ties with Taiwan to a strategic partnership irrespective of relations with China. Instead of viewing Taiwan as a ‘card’ to be played every time China provokes India, it is necessary to look at Taiwan as a country with which it can build a vibrant commercial and strategic partnership. 

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There are five areas where India and Taiwan could cooperate to mutual benefit: Artificial intelligence, Indo-Pacific Strategy, Defence ties, Mandarin learning, and the IT sector.

A new area which has become popular after the renewed talks on the Quad between India, US, Japan and Australia is the Indo-Pacific. To ensure a comprehensive regional approach, however, countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, and Taiwan should participate in the Quad. India has signed agreements with South Korea and also with the United States and Japan. With the U.S. it has multiple agreements including one that requires Indian support for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, issues of maritime security, and interests in maintaining regional stability in the Asia-Pacific. Taiwan has control over of Itu Aba, the largest island in the Spratly chain, along with the Pratas Island, which together control the South China Sea’s northeast exit. Taiwan can emplace radar and sensors to gain a more accurate situational awareness of the surrounding areas in the South China Sea. Participating with other countries to ensure the neutrality of the South China Sea as the “global commons” and safety of air and sea navigation is important for Taiwan as it can then insist on a role in discussions on maritime territorial claims.

Taiwan has advantages in other areas like its excellent facilities for teaching Mandarin.  Unlike China’s Confucius centres which have a hidden agenda and teach the Chinese version of contemporary history, Taiwan language centres focus on language training. Indian military officers could undergo courses at Taiwan’s National Defence University (NDU) to familiarise themselves with the Chinese language. This exchange could subsequently be enhanced.

Under the education and industry sector, an initiative that has already been taken by both countries needs to be expanded, namely the collaboration in Artificial Intelligence. The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Ropar in Punjab is going to set up a collaborative research ecosystem with the National Chung Cheng University (NCCU) of Taiwan and the aim of the centre is to promote student and faculty exchanges, joint project proposals, and development of curriculum for AI-related programs. The research centre will focus on facilitating industry-academia interactions. This cooperation could be expanded as India is looking to cooperate on Artificial Intelligence as Taiwan has an edge in this field since Microsoft has decided to locate its new AI R&D Center in Taiwan. 

Another important sector that Taiwan is well poised to collaborate with New Delhi is in promoting manufacturing and infrastructure technology, including hardware aspects of the InfoTech (IT) industry. India could cooperate with Taiwan on 5G technology, in which it has made advances. An important sector for collaboration is with Taiwan is in the manufacture of wafer chips and semiconductor manufacturing.

The potential for cooperation between the two sides is unlimited. They should strive to increase and institutionalize exchanges — among scholars, analysts, journalists, and entrepreneurs — in different sectors. This will increase their awareness of each other, sharing of perspectives, and enhance opportunities for cooperation.

Author – Namrata Hasija is a Research Fellow at Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.

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