Written by Pranay Shome
The standoff at 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, including the Quad security group, have declared their intent to form the “Asian NATO”, the Quad continues to suffer from indecisiveness, which was evident when it did not even issue a joint statement to condemn China at the foreign ministers’ meeting held last year. Only the US called out China publicly.
In such a situation, it is imperative that India explore alternate diplomatic and militaristic routes to tame the dragon.
The option of establishing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan should be vigorously pursued by South Block. Indo-Taiwan ties date back to the early 1950s, when Chiang Kai Shek, the former Chinese president and former head of state who fled to the island of Formosa following the victory of Mao Zedong in the long-drawn Chinese civil war, called on Nehru to establish and further ties with Formosa. However, Nehru, believing that Chiang was nothing but a minor player, decided to ignore his call, choosing instead to concentrate on building ties with the 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 considerable military and economic strength, the former has surpassed India to become an economic powerhouse. It has now embraced aggressiveness to enforce its 5th century vision of the “Middle Kingdom”. In such a situation, providing legitimacy to the existence of Taiwan is a necessary first step.
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 has so far established formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Recognising Taiwan will entail a lot of benefits for India’s foreign policy regime. First, Taiwan is a robust democracy with a booming economy. Second, India can bolster its legitimacy as the leader of the democratic world at a time when the democratic institutions in the US have been undermined.
Third, 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. Fourth, recognising Taiwan will make it clear to China that India means business; and that 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 principle. Last, the Quad security grouping will be institutionalised, which in the near future can even be extended to include new members. It will be the first time that India will be a 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 of Taiwan may invite severe ramifications for India. China can choose to ratchet up tensions with India. China is our second-largest bilateral trade partner and a key export partner of India with regard to raw materials and goods. According to a FICCI report, India imports more than 40 per cent of several important goods like the API (active pharmaceutical ingredients), television, chemicals, chips, textiles and many more, from China.
As a possible retaliatory measure, China can activate its propaganda machinery to wage psychological warfare against India. It can also activate its terror financing networks which, for years, remained a chronic internal security issue for India in the Northeast. China will also collaborate with Pakistan by intensifying terrorism in the Kashmir valley and the northeast of India. 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 appeared.
Despite all the risks, the Modi government must work with all like-minded countries to counter Chinese aggression. For the sake of the free world, India must take the hard step which will reinforce its position as a leader of the free world.
(The writer is a trainee research associate at the Defence Research and Studies think tank)