Time right for transforming India-Taiwan relations

Era has come for relationship to be greatly deepened, more readily acknowledged

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Independence Day parade in Hyderabad, India on Aug. 15, 2020.

Independence Day parade in Hyderabad, India on Aug. 15, 2020. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — India has always been cautious in engaging Taiwan since New Delhi established the India-Taipei Association relations in 1995 to promote bilateral relations; indeed, the growing relationship between New Delhi and Taipei has been kept quiet as India has been hesitant to acknowledge the warming relationship in public.

Will India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi end India’s historic hesitation and redefine India-Taiwan relations when Delhi and Taipei are celebrating 25 years of partnership?

With the India-Taipei Association and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in Taipei and New Delhi, both sides have facilitated scalable business, tourism, culture, science and technology, and people-to-people exchanges. Mutual efforts have resulted in a range of bilateral agreements covering agriculture, investment, customs cooperation, civil aviation, industrial cooperation, and other areas.

Notably, with already US$7 billion in bilateral trade and over US$350 million worth of Taiwanese investment in India, Foxconn is reportedly considering a US$1 billion push to expand its iPhone assembly operations in the country.

Above all, New Delhi and Taipei have increasingly deepened mutual respect underpinned by openness, with democracy and diversity as key principles for collective growth. The shared faith in freedom, human rights, justice, and rule of law continues to embolden their partnership.

Indian freedom fighter Netaji Subash Chandra Bose’s story of struggle for the nation even has connections to the Taiwan from long ago. Moreover, Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy and India’s Act East Policy together could help steer a resilient and sustainable future.

In the age of the pandemic, New Delhi and Taipei should shape and strengthen digital healthcare as well as economic and security linkages. The two sides need to explore greater production and supply chain complementarities in cybersecurity, electric mobility, defense, biotech and medical technology, capital goods, chemicals, textiles and apparel, telecommunications and technology infrastructure, semiconductor industries, and gems and jewelry.

There is also huge potential for facilitating two-way partnerships in construction and related engineering services, financial services, education and related services, smart city services, transport and logistics infrastructure, as well as green and renewable energy.

Despite uneasy India-China relations and pervasive public sentiment against Chinese imports, economies of scale help Chinese imports easily sail through Indian markets. For example, digital payments have become the preferred mode for facilitating consumer transactions in India; as of now, they are mostly done on Chinese payment terminals due to their advantages when it comes to economies of scale.

Taiwan, however, can be an alternative and reliable partner for India’s consumer and business needs. It can play an important role in India’s pursuit of self-reliance under its “Make in India” campaign to help provide high quality, sustainable and affordable goods, and services.

New Delhi and Taipei can also collaborate and undertake joint research and development initiatives in the field of organic farming. In fact, shared interest and combined wisdom could potentially be turned into a mutual vision for developing sustainable agricultural systems.

For example, New Delhi and Taipei could partner together with eastern South Asian countries, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal for such efforts. This way the two sides can help a larger chunk of the world’s population achieve access to safer and more nutritious food while fostering eco-friendly and organic food habits and practices.

India’s huge populations and vast markets provide a sea of opportunities for Taiwan to make safe and lucrative investments. Similarly, India can tap Taiwan’s technology and capital.

Deepening defense and intelligence cooperation will help to enhance mutual security. Both India and Taiwan can work together in the new frontiers of advanced technologies in bilateral and trilateral frameworks.

While Taiwan can help India in beefing up its fledgling cyber capabilities, India can share its expertise in space technology for commercial and defense collaborations.

Cultivating and nurturing educational and cultural relations is also important for deepening ties. Taiwan awards nearly 100 scholarships to Indian university students annually, and currently, there are about 2,400 Indian students pursuing higher education in Taiwan; furthermore, over 6,000 students at various Indian universities have benefited from language training programs provided by the island country.

India with its natural beauty and Buddhist sites can be a major attraction for Taiwanese tourists. Similarly, there are fascinating tourism avenues in Taiwan that allow Indians to learn about and appreciate the local values, language, and culture.

Indian universities also host a number of Taiwan Education Centers where Indians can get a sense of Taiwanese culture as well as get exposure to the exciting higher education landscape in the country.

U.S.-Taiwan relations are also going through a growth spurt, which is in no small part due to Taiwan’s excellent health leadership in combatting Covid-19. The U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar recently visited Taiwan to acknowledge and highlight its global health leadership, the first such visit of anything approaching its kind in decades.

5G networks have emerged as a new front in the U.S-China trade war. The U.S. has expanded the Clean Network Program for enhanced data privacy as well as reliable and secure data flow based upon internationally accepted digital trust standards. Taiwanese telecoms and India’s Reliance Jio are regarded as Clean 5G networks.

The time is ripe for creating a political framework between New Delhi and Taipei to harvest the potentially huge benefits of closer ties between these two capitals. Dialogue between key political players will aid mutual trust and provide the necessary catalyst to the growing strategic and economic relationship.

Around 1.5 billion Indians and Taiwanese together can serve as a beacon of hope for humanity.

Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy is an adjunct fellow at the Institute for Australia India Engagement (IAIE) in Brisbane, Australia.

Prashant Sharma is an economic and strategic affairs analyst with CUTS International in Jaipur, India.

Their views are personal and do not reflect those of their employers.