Eight days after China began military drills around Taiwan following the trip of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in early August—which have resumed after a delegation of US lawmakers visited the island—India finally broke its silence on this raging imbroglio. Similar to what it has been telling China regarding the fraught situation on the Sino-Indian border, India urged restraint and avoiding any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo. Sino-US tensions over Taiwan threaten to be another source of disruption to global supply chains and trade following the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. To be sure, the status quo has been unilaterally changed after Chinese fighter planes and warships crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait that separates the Chinese mainland and the island nation. This resembles a dry run for the blockade, if not invasion, of an export powerhouse that accounts for the bulk of global semiconductor production. Although India follows a ne China policy and has only unofficial relations with Taipei, this does not figure in bilateral documents following differences with the dragon over Jammu & Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. Recently, Sri Lanka has also given permission for a Chinese tracking vessel to dock at its Hambantota port. The US, too, acknowledges Taiwan is part of ne China, but does not accept Beijing’s claim to the island nation. The current imbroglio stems from China’s fears that the US is “hollowing out” its ne China policy.
India cannot but be affected by US-China frictions as it seeks greater engagement with the prosperous Indo-Pacific region. The Taiwan Strait, 130 km wide at its narrowest point between China and Taipei, is important to trading flows, from East Asian factories to the global market. This is the primary route for goods between Japan and China as also much of South Korea’s trade. India has comprehensive economic partnership agreements with Japan and South Korea, and recently inked an economic cooperation and trade agreement with Australia. Half of the global container fleet and 88% of the world’s largest ships by tonnage passed through this Strait this year, according to Bloomberg. One million barrels of oil and oil products every day traverse through this Strait. All of this could be impacted if China claims that these are not international waters and weaponises access as it is already doing in the South China Sea by building islands and militarising them. India has consistently supported freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. It should do the same for the Taiwan Strait as well, which threatens to become the flashpoint for colliding big power ambitions.
The last thing India needs is the prospect of these two insecure superpowers stumbling towards a dangerous collision over Taiwan, per Stephen Roach in the Financial Times. Geopolitical accidents rarely happen out of thin air, Roach wrote as he took a dim view of the Pelosi visit. In response, Beijing has suspended regular communication channels with the US military as well as climate talks with the US. The dragon will also not cooperate with the US on repatriation of illegal immigrants and drug trafficking. As India is not part of the Sino-centric RCEP, its ambitions in the region would suffer if the US is not able to operationalise the recently launched Indo-Pacific Economic Framework due to growing risks of its confrontation with Beijing.