Cross-Strait Tensions on the Rise: What India can Do?

November 16, 2021 2:16 PM

On November 13, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and emphasised on the United States’ interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait

taiwanTaiwan President Tsai Ing-wen posted photos of her visiting the Taj Mahal to thank Indian Twitter users who had sent national day greetings (Source/Twitter:iingwen)

By Sana Hashmi, 

With an objective to manage strategic tensions and economic competition in the relationship, the US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in a virtual summit on November 16. This was a part of the United States’ attempts to bring the relations back on track. However, the Taiwan issue looms larger in the United States-China relations. The Biden administration urged China to respect the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. The White House readout mentions, “The United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”On November 13, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and emphasised on the United States’ interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. China, on the other, has warned the United States“to not send the wrong signal by promoting pro-independence sentiments in Taiwan.” These statements make it clear that such dialogues have a limited scope in terms of bringing normalcy to the United States-China relations given Taiwan continues to remain an important factor in United States-China relations.

Over the past few months, China’s territorial aggression and acts of incursions by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have increased. In the first week of October, China sent as many as 150 warplanes into Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ). Even though the frequency has reduced now, PLA’s encroachment into Taiwan’s ADIZ is a daily activity with six PLA aircraft entering Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ on November 15.Through these regular encroachments, China is militarily coercing Taiwan and advancing its objective of discouraging countries to support Taiwan. On the contrary, not only the United States, but some European countries, Japan, and Australia have also come out in support of Taiwan. India has, nonetheless,remained silent on this.

This brings me to an important question, is it viable for India to remain silent on the Taiwan issue? A dilemma that has troubled the Indian policy makers is to what extent it is practical for India to make alterations to its Taiwan policy when the former shares a long and disputed border with China? This, to a large extent, explains India’s policy towards Taiwan. Despite Taiwan’s being an indispensable partner to India, the potential of this relation has remained under-utilised. For long, India-Taiwan ties have remained limited within the scope of commercial and cultural cooperation. The new realities demand that India rethinks its Taiwan policy and sheds its cautious approach.

India and Taiwan are the two current sufferers of China’s aggressive postures and China has shown a complete disregard of their territorial integrity. The two countries have been dealing with the China challenge for decades. India and Taiwan are facing a similar challenge- an aggressive neighbour, China that is militarily coercing both Taiwan and India. Despite the ongoing talks and heightened tensions, China continues its troops and infrastructure build up along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh. For India, the border standoffs have become a common feature in the relations; while for Taiwan, it has been living under the threat of a not-so-imminent invasion by China.

Both India and Taiwan are liberal democracies, and have shared interests and common concerns. Despite China’s non-accommodative stance, both India and Taiwan are keen on minimising tensions with China and urging the Chinese leadership to respect the status quo and yet both India and Taiwan have shown that there will be no compromise on their respective sovereignty. S. Jaishankar, India’s Minister of External Affairs remarked, “there has been no lack of resolve and firmness or effectiveness in terms of what we have to do to protect our national security.” Similar approach has been adopted by Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen. She made it amply clear that Taiwan’s sovereignty and freedom is of utmost importance to the leadership of the country. She stated, “There should be absolutely no illusions that the Taiwanese people will bow to pressure.”

China’s aggression is on the rise and a free and open Indo-Pacific is vital for the peace and stability of the region. That would not be complete without Taiwan’s participation. When the United States, Japan, and smaller European countries are voicing support for Taiwan, remaining silent should no longer be an option for India. Taiwan under China’s control will be detrimental to India’s own interests as well. Support from countries and even India’s overt engagement with Taiwan in a wide-range of areas do not entail any change in the pre-existing understanding between China and other Indo-Pacific countries on One-China policy. The point here is that China is violating the status quo and this has the potential to destabilise the region. The like-minded countries including India need to acknowledge that it is in their interest to find a solution to this problem even if it is not their battle to fight. It, in fact, is their battle to fight. China’s aggression is the new normal, and finding a collective response to deter China seems to be the only way out. Internationalisation of the issue and engaging Taiwan are a must in this context. This might also lead India towards finding a solution to its own problems with China.

(The author is a Visiting Fellow at the Taiwan Asia Exchange Foundation. She is a former Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Fellow and consultant at India’s Ministry of External Affairs. She tweets @sanahashmi1. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).

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