India Signals Shift from “One-China” Policy to Mount Pressure on Beijing
Tango with Taiwan
In response to China’s exceptionally tough posturing and physical aggression on the border issue, India appears to be mulling the prospect of moving away from its traditional “One-China policy” and tango with Taiwan, Beijing’s bête noire openly.
Although New Delhi’s adherence to the One-China policy had come under strain before, as in 1962 after the India-China war, it has officially stuck to that policy. But for sometime now, there has been a serious re-appraisal of the policy.
This was evident recently in the way the Indian government handled the issue of the Chinese embassy’s open letter of protest against the publication of a full page advertisement in some Indian newspapers about the 109 th.,anniversary of the Republic of China which falls on October 10. October 10 is also celebrated as the National Day of Taiwan. What must have irked Beijing particularly is that the advert carried an image of the Taiwanese President, Tsai Ing-wen, with the slogan “Taiwan and India are natural partners”.
Incensed by this, the Chinese embassy urged the Indian media to abide by the Indian government’s position recognizing China’s “One-China principle”. The embassy’s missive also gave the following guidelines: “In particular, Taiwan shall not be referred to as a ‘country (nation)’ or ‘Republic of China’ or the leader of China’s Taiwan region as ‘President’, so as not to send the wrong signals to the general public.”
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu reacted to the Chinese protest by tweeting: “India is the largest democracy on Earth with a vibrant press & freedom-loving people. But it looks like communist China is hoping to march into the subcontinent by imposing censorship. Taiwan’s Indian friends will have one reply: GET LOST! ”
The Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivasatava brushed away the Chinese criticism by simply saying that the Indian media is free to carry what they want. Significantly, he did not re-iterate India’s One-China policy.
After the 1962 Sino-Indian border war and the continuing tension since then, India became ambivalent about the One-China policy. On its part, China claimed the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh, saying that it is actually “South Tibet” and therefore, a part of China.
But the ice was broken in 2003 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister. As part of the Sino-Indian rapprochement, Vajpayee and his counterpart Wen Jiabao signed an agreement in which India recognized Tibet as part of China. On its part China, accepted Sikkim as an Indian State, but without giving up its claim on Arunachal Pradesh.
But come Xi Jinping’s pushy economic outreach policy with projects like the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka under the multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), India felt more threatened. CPEC, especially, was a sensitive issue as it cut across Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan which India claimed as a part of Kashmir. China turned a deaf year to India’s objections to CPEC and rubbed salt into the wound by preventing the listing of Islamic terrorists sheltered by Pakistan, China’s bosom friend.
India openly campaigned against the BRI on the grounds that it will draw developing countries into a “debt trap” and slammed CPEC on grounds of sovereignty. India also committed itself to the Quad, an anti-China alliance between the US, Japan and Australia and began to promote the US case on freedom of navigation. On its part, China upped the ante by provoking clashes on the border in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh.
With relations with China deteriorating rapidly, India began to firm up its ties with the US. The second Indo-US 2+2 talks led by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh for India and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper for the US, held on December 19, 2019 in Washington led to some important agreements of military significance. The two sides signed the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) to the India-US General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). The agreement was supposed to ease the transfer of high-level technology from the US to India and safeguard classified military information.
India and the US inked two other foundational agreements: the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018. India banned several Chinese apps and canceled several Chinese companies’ contracts as retaliatory measures.
Simultaneously, India began to cozy up to Taiwan, which China claims. But officially India stuck to its One-China policy. India’s representation in Taipei is officially known as the “India-Taipei Association,” and not an embassy. It appointed Gourangalal Das, a Mandarin speaker, and a Joint Secretary who headed the US division in India’s Foreign Ministry, as its representative in Taiwan. Das’ widely publicized appointment was in sharp contrast to the quiet appointments in the past, noted Manik Mehta in an article in Taipei Times.
India is hoping to promote economic, trade, technical, medical and scientific cooperation, and tourism ties with Taiwan. “Buddhism and Taoism evoke considerable interest among many Indians who speak of ancient connections with Chinese spiritualism, which is seen as preserved in Taiwan, but suppressed in China,” Mehta said.
Taiwan in turn appointed a seasoned diplomat, Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Director-General Baushuan Ger as its new representative to India, replacing Tien Chung-kwang who headed the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in India for seven years.
Tien, along with Central Tibetan Administration President Lobsang Sangay, the leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile, was invited to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi as Indian Prime Minister in 2014. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, asked two of its MPs, Meenakshi Lekhi and Rahul Kaswan, to participate (virtually) in President Tsai Ing-wen’s swearing-in ceremony on May 30.
The ground for such actions were being built up. An official report by the Indian Parliamentary Standing Committee in 2018 on India-China relations, had called for stronger ties with Taiwan. The report noted that China itself was maintaining a huge trade with Taiwan. Indian experts are also for strategic collaboration with Taiwan and with the Indo-Pacific strategic plan worked out by the US, Japan and Australia to keep China on the leash.