Explained: India’s One-China stand and relations with Taiwan

India does not yet have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, as it follows the one-China policy. However, during the then Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s visit to India in December 2010, India made no mention of support for the One China policy in the joint communiqué.

In 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, he invited Taiwanese Ambassador Chung-Kwang Tien, along with Lobsang Sangay, president of the central Tibetan government, to his swearing-in ceremony.

While India follows the one-China policy, it has an office in Taipei for diplomatic functions – the India-Taipei Association (ITA) is headed by a senior diplomat. Taiwan has the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center (TECC) in New Delhi. Both were founded in 1995.

Their links are focused on commerce, culture and education. Now in their third decade, these have been deliberately kept inconspicuous due to China’s sensitivities. For example, visits to parliamentary delegations and legislative-level dialogues have stopped since 2017, around the time the border crossing between India and China took place in Doklam.

A plane carrying Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and other members of the US delegation arrives in Taipei, Taiwan on August 2, 2022. (Photo from Reuters)

But in recent years, India has tried to improve its relationship with Taiwan, as ties with China are tense. In 2020, after the clashes in Galwan, New Delhi selected diplomat Gourangalal Das – then Joint Secretary (Americas) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – to be its envoy in Taipei.

On May 20 of that year, the BJP asked two of its MPs, Meenakshi Lekhi and Rahul Kaswan, to virtually attend the swearing-in ceremony of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

Lee Teng-Hui

In August 2020, condoning the death of former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, India described him as “Mr Democracy” — again seen as a message to Beijing. The New Delhi mission is also extremely careful not to issue politically charged statements about Taiwan.

It was during Lee’s rule that India founded ITA in 1995. In 1996, Lee was elected to a second term in Taiwan’s first direct presidential election. As president, he scrapped laws that stood in the way of democratic development, overhauled the legislature, held free parliamentary elections and allowed Taiwanese to vote for their president for the first time.

The current president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, is considered Lee’s protégé.

On Tuesday, when Pelosi landed in Taipei, the Chinese embassy in Delhi issued three statements, all of which reiterated that “this is a serious violation of the one-China principle”.

The new push

In May this year, Sana Hashmi, a visiting fellow at the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation in Taipei, wrote in a paper for the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore: “Any significant development in relations between India and Taiwan leads to the likelihood of a likely stern response from Beijing. This explains India’s steady, if slow, aid to Taiwan. Given that relations between India and China are unlikely to return to normal in the near future, India should consider taking a bold, comprehensive and long-term approach to involving Taiwan.”

She added: “While there are compelling reasons for India and Taiwan to look to each other, much of the relationship has been episodic, marked by temporary highs. The relationships have suffered from divergent approaches, unrealistic expectations and the resulting resulting missed opportunities.”

The Tsai government is eager to expand cooperation areas with India as it is one of the priority countries for Taiwan’s new southern policy. Until now, it has largely been an economic and human-to-human relationship. Now, amid tension with China, New Delhi is addressing the need to strengthen ties between India and Taiwan.

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