Diplomatic billiards often matter more than normal and formal dialogues and geo-strategic discussions. The decision of the Taiwanese leadership - President Tsai Ing-wen - to appoint Ambassador Chung-Kwang Tien, who represented the Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre in India, as new Deputy Foreign Minister must be conceptualised from that angle.
"Not only does such an arrangement convey approval for Tien’s performance as Taiwan’s representative to India over the past seven years, but it also suggests that the relationship with India is likely to become one of Taiwan’s most important diplomatic priorities in the future," says an analysis commentary in Taiwannews.com.
Of course, the optimism is not without good reason. Taiwanese president in her second inaugural address on May 20 this year made her intent clear. "We hope that Taiwan can play a more active role in the peace, stability, and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region. Over the next four years, the direction of our policies will remain the same, and we will do even more".
She is keen for enhanced ties with India. In her first inaugural speech four years ago, Tsai had even mentioned India as a priority country in her South-bound policy. The underlying message to New Delhi is quite clear, emphatic and reflects a long-term vision.
Those in the know of
things suggest the Modi government - and especially Prime Minister Narendra
Modi - too have been very clear and ambitious about improving India-Taiwan
relationship. In fact, Modi had made a departure from normal course and had
invited ambassador Chung-Kwang Tien, Taiwan’s official representative to India,
to his May 26, 2014 swearing-in ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan premises. Of
course, there can be debates that the initiative was not backed by adequate
spade works and further
steps on getting the desired results during the last six years.
Did Modi bank a lot on his efforts to establish a personal rapport with President Xi Jinping? Whether two informal Summits in 2018 and 2019 have gone in waste? In related developments, China had protested the visit of an all-women parliamentarians delegation from Taiwan to India in 2018. Lately after President Xi Jinping's Galwan misadventure, it has been suggested quite vocally that it is high time New Delhi play the well perceived 'Taiwan Card' vis-a-vis its relationship with China.
In the process, India will be able to display its valour and new clout in the Indo-Pacific. Improved and enhanced bilateral ties between Taiwan and India could be helpful to the NDA dispensation in its battle against Covid-19 as Taiwan has shown to the world that due to the pre-emptive preparations and the right policy implementation, the crusade against the pandemic has been very successful.
Taiwan will be very much keen and happy to share "her experiences as well as the PPE material such as masks" with India to fight Corona. In fact, Taiwanese authorities in May this year had donated one million face masks to India through the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) to help protect frontline medical personnel. Ambassador Chung-Kwang Tien as Taiwan's new Deputy Foreign Minister can also make use of his 'on ground experience' of seven long years stint in Delhi and help give a totally new dimension to India-Taiwan relationship vis-a-vis trade and taking care of geo-strategic interests in the Indo Pacific.
While Modi had taken charge of governance in India in 2014, the Taiwanese envoy had taken over his role in Delhi in 2013. Thus, all these years he has seen politics and diplomacy unfold in India under Modi and thus his knowledge will come handy when he works out India-policy of the Taiwan administration.
India for its part can play a more proactive role and take up the 'Taiwanese cause' vis-a-vis World Health Organisation (WHO). There should not be any major hiccup on the part of Indian authorities in 2020 to work on improving India-Taiwan relationship as the link between Beijing and New Delhi has certainly weakened after Galwan valley misadventures in the LAC.
Moreover, it goes without saying that China has routinely and unhesitatingly worked against Indian interests in the UN and other multilateral organizations on nuke related matters and also with regard Pakistan and the issue of terrorism. Thus, of course China cannot be considered "best of friends" for India. Rather the competition is so clear between two Asian giants. As it is, India is taking keen interest to work with the United States, Australia and Japan in the blue waters under the QUAD format and a good and a smoother relationship with Taiwan will also help it further.
India is also reaching out to three new crucial players - South Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam for better maritime ties and all this will contribute in giving strength to the QUAD format and of course "negatively impact" China's interests in Indo-Pacific. China is already irked about the growing Indo-US relationship.
Moreover, QUAD formulated in 2017 in the Philippines during ASEAN Summit by India, the US, Japan and Australia also did not go well with Beijing. A 'belligerent' Taiwan policy from New Delhi and if backed by Japan and the United States can only make life tougher for Xi Jinping, who has always tried to push a muscular foreign policy for Beijing.
(Jose Kalathil is a senior journalist based in New Delhi. firstname.lastname@example.org )
(Published on 20th July 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 30)