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Why India’s statement on Taiwan rattles China

While India urged restraint, and de-escalation of tension in the Taiwan Straits, its response to the ‘one-China policy’ question, that India’s position is well known and needs no reiteration, is a message to China that the use of force for Taiwan’s reunification will not find favour with India.

August 15, 2022 / 12:01 PM IST
Pelosi left Taiwan on August 3 after a trip that defied a series of stark threats from Beijing, which views the self-ruled island as its territory. Second in line to the presidency, Pelosi was the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. She said her presence made it

Pelosi left Taiwan on August 3 after a trip that defied a series of stark threats from Beijing, which views the self-ruled island as its territory. Second in line to the presidency, Pelosi was the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. She said her presence made it "unequivocally clear" that the United States would "not abandon" a democratic ally like Taiwan. It sparked a furious reaction from Beijing, which vowed "punishment" and announced military drills in the seas around Taiwan -- some of the world's busiest waterways. (Image: AFP)

After maintaining years of restraint, India on Friday decided to publicly articulate its concern over the developments in the Taiwan Strait where days of China’s coercive military drills targeting Taiwan have created the worst crisis in decades.

The Chinese military’s muscle-flexing, with warships, fighter jets and live-fire exercises involving ballistic missiles, over Taiwan, was in protest against US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-ruled island in early August.

Though Pelosi’s “ill-timed” visit was widely criticised, much of the blame for the current crisis on the Taiwan Strait has been put on China, with its prolonged coercive military drills.

China saw the visit of Pelosi, the second senior-most leader in the American presidential line of succession, as Washington’s attempt to gradually alter its stated “one-China policy.”

Under the policy, Taiwan is acknowledged to be a territory of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), not an independent entity. However, it is also implicit that the reunification of the two will be peaceful and not forceful.


But India, like many other countries, saw the developments in the Taiwan Strait as a growing assertive tendency in China’s foreign policy, under which the threat to use force was frequently employed against countries in the region.

Indian and Chinese troops have been locked in a military standoff since May 2020, along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) after China unilaterally tried to alter the position of informal frontier of the two sides.

China has also been involved in disputes over several islands in the region with a host of other Asian countries.

What makes India’s statement on Taiwan different

The Indian statement on Taiwan had two distinctive parts. It expressed concern at the recent developments in the Taiwan Straits, and urged restraint, avoidance of unilateral actions to change the status quo, de-escalation of tensions and efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region.

But on the question whether India continued to believe in the “one-China policy,” it deliberately maintained ambiguity. Delhi’s refusal to elaborate, by saying, “India’s relevant policies are well known and consistent, and “do not require reiteration,” has somewhat unsettled Beijing, which expected a categorical support from India.

The Indian statement is a signal to both China and Delhi’s western interlocutors.

It tells China that attempts to unilaterally change the status quo and use of force for Taiwan’s reunification with the mainland will not find favour with India.

By maintaining ambiguity on the “one-China policy”, Delhi is conveying to Beijing that its stated position on this issue should not be taken for granted, especially since a reiteration of it can be interpreted as a support for China in the present crisis.

China’s stand on J&K and Indian position

Though India has not changed its “one-China policy,” in recent years, the reiteration has failed to figure in India-China joint statements. Part of this could also be due to a shift in China’s position on Jammu and Kashmir and Sikkim. Being’s position on J&K has increasingly been more aligned with Pakistan’s position.

At the same, being critical of Beijing’s unilateralism and threat to use force on Taiwan is consistent with India’s policy. During the debate on Ukraine, India’s refusal to join the Western move to isolate Russia for the invasion had been widely criticised by the US and European countries.

India had justified its position on Ukraine by basing it on national interest and the deteriorating security environment in its region because of China’s aggressive policies.

Delhi found the European ‘double standard’ untenable as it wanted India’s support against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine but remained silent on China’s aggression on India and other Asian countries.

By breaking its restraint on Taiwan, Delhi is trying to show that it is concerned with Beijing’s unilateralism, not only when it involves India, but also when directed against other countries in the region.

US stand on one-China policy

Since 1979, when the US switched diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan, it has maintained its ‘one-China policy’, acknowledging Beijing as the legitimate government of China and Taiwan, a breakaway island of the mainland.

However, America has maintained unofficial relations with Taiwan by cooperating with it on economic, cultural and military affairs. In the past, arms supplied by the US to Taiwan were defensive in nature to ensure the leadership in the island was able to defend itself against possible Chinese aggression. But, in recent years, Washington has been supplying more sophisticated weapons systems to Taiwan.

It has also deliberately created confusion on its “strategic ambiguity” on the island by encouraging speculation that it will military intervene, if China attacks the island.

India and other countries also maintain diplomatic relations with Beijing and pursue a “one-China policy.”

India, Taiwan cooperation

But, in the past years, the engagements between India and Taiwan have become more frequent and varied, spanning cooperation in trade and economy, plus education, health and culture.

A 2019 survey in the island found that over 53 percent of Taiwanese people and 73 percent of the supporters of the ruling Democratic People’s Party in Taiwan were in favour of stronger ties with India.

The reunification of Taiwan is a top priority for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is seeking a record third-term as leader in the November Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.

But how he brings about that reunification with Taiwan will greatly shape the world’s opinion about China and the self-ruled island.
Pranay Sharma
first published: Aug 15, 2022 12:01 pm
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