At a time when the dragon is breathing fire, India must contemplate formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan
The standoff on the Ladakh border between the Indian Army and the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) continues amid failing talks and casus belli measures being unleashed by the Chinese regime. While the union government and the armed forces make it clear that they will do whatever it takes to protect India’s sovereignty and integrity, precious little has been done on the foreign policy front. While India and its democratic allies which comprise the Quad security grouping declare their intent to form the ‘Asian NATO’, the Quad continues to suffer from indecisiveness, which was pretty much evident when the Quad did not even issue a joint statement to condemn China at the foreign ministers meeting held last year. Only America has publicly called out China, so far.
In such a situation, it is imperative that India explore alternate diplomatic and institutional routes to tame the dragon.
Establishing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan after recognising the country should be vigorously pursued by South Block. Indo-Taiwan ties date back to the early 1950s when Chiang Kai Shek, the ex-Chinese president fled to the island of Formosa following the victory of Mao Zedong in the long drawn-out Chinese civil war. He called on Nehru to establish and further ties with Formosa, but Nehru, believing that Chiang was nothing but a “peanut”, decided to ignore his call, choosing instead to concentrate on building ties with People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Seven decades on, a plethora of changes has taken place on the foreign affairs front. While both China and India have developed considerably both militarily and economically, the dragon has surpassed the elephant to become an economic powerhouse. It has now embraced aggressiveness to enforce its vision of the ‘Middle Kingdom’. In such a situation, providing legitimacy to the existence of Taiwan is a necessary first step.
Paradigm Shift in Policy
Establishing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan will bring about a paradigm shift vis-à-vis India’s foreign policy. It will enforce the idea that liberal democracy is the last word in the battle of ideologies as Francis Fukuyama had visualised in his landmark book ‘The End of History and the Last Man’, and that there is no alternative to human rights and liberties, not even the Chinese model of ‘authoritarian development’. It will be the boldest step that any global leader has taken, not even the mighty US which has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Recognising Taiwan will entail a lot of benefits for the mandarins of India’s foreign policy regime. Firstly, Taiwan is a robust democracy with a booming economy; it will prove to be an alternative to China albeit in a relatively less proportion. Secondly, India can bolster its legitimacy as a leader of the democratic world at a time when the democratic institutions in the US, often regarded as the cradle of democracy, have been undermined.
Thirdly, India can get the support of another powerful ally in its attempt to carve out a new supply chain alliance which India-Japan-Australia formalised recently. Fourthly, recognising Taiwan will make it clear to China that India means serious business and if the need arises, India will not back down from sending dedicated naval and air assets in the disputed South China Sea region to enforce freedom of navigation in the resource-rich region. Lastly, the Quad security grouping will be institutionalised and in the near future can even be extended to include new members. It will be the first time that India will be part of any dedicated military and economic alliance which will deter the aggression of the Chinese war machine in the strategic Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific region.
However, the recognition may invite severe ramifications for India. China will be infuriated and can choose to ratchet up tensions with India. India must be extremely careful while dealing with China as China is our second-largest bilateral trade partner and a key exporter of goods to us. According to a FICCI report, India imports more than 40% of several important goods like the API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients), television, chemicals, chips, textiles and many more.
The dragon may as a possible retaliatory measure activate its propaganda machinery to wage psychological warfare with India. It can also activate its terror financing networks which for years remained a chronic internal security for India in the northeast of the country. China will also collaborate with its ‘iron brother’ Pakistan to try and deter India by intensifying terrorism in the Kashmir valley and elsewhere. Further, China can use its potent disinformation empire to try and peddle fake news about the credibility of India’s indigenous vaccines at a time when the light at the end of the tunnel of a pandemic-stricken world has finally appeared.
The Modi government must keep national interests in mind. Despite all the risks, it must work with all the like-minded countries to take own the mighty dragon responsible for unleashing a deadly virus which has wrecked havoc on humanity. For the sake of the free world, India must take the hard step which will reinforce India’s position in cementing its place as the leader of the free world.