Is India Scared of China?
Ms Annette Lu, the Vice President of the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan, is still finding it hard to believe that the Vajpayee government did not allow her to visit the earthquake victims in Gujarat with relief material worth more than one million US dollars because of the “Chinese fear”.
Ms Lu, who had earned international plaudits for her contribution towards rehabilitation of the victims of a severe earthquake in Taiwan in September 1999, wanted to come to India in her private capacity as the chairperson of a voluntary organisation called “Love and Care”. Her work among the earthquake victims, it is said, was responsible in a big way for her subsequent success as the Vice Presidential mate of President Chen Shui-bian six months later in Taiwan’s second but epoch-making presidential election (21 May 2000) that resulted in the peaceful transfer of political power for the first time ever in any Chinese society.
…given the importance of China in India’s foreign policy, Indian policy makers, foreign policy analysts and think tanks must understand Beijing well. This is particularly so when India does not have China-experts worth the name.
She laments, “I feel sad that New Delhi was not sympathetic to my going. Given my experience in post-earthquake reconstruction activities, I could have done something useful in Gujarat. After all, so many Taiwanese, rich and poor, had contributed enthusiastically for the relief material, including 25 ambulances. It is a pity that India was not sensitive to the earthquake victims because of political considerations”. Recounting how there was no such problem when Taiwan helped generously earlier the earthquake victims in Turkey, which, otherwise, has close relations with China, she stressed on how “life and ,friendship go beyond the boundaries of nations”.
However, what Ms. Lu found further insulting was the undue delay on the part of New Delhi to grant a visa to Dr Parris H Chang, Chairman, Committee on Foreign Relations of Taiwanese Parliament (Legislative Yuan), who finally came to India on her behalf to hand over the relief material. “The visa was issued only after we threatened to pull out”, said Dr Chang, adding, “worst still were the conditions attached by the ministry of external affairs while issuing the visa. I was told not to take any Taiwanese journalists in my delegation. I was also asked to keep the visit absolutely low profile and not to meet the representatives of the Indian media and Indian ministers throughout the India-trip”.
That was still not the end of the story, if the senior officials in the President’s office in Taipei were to be believed. Relief material from the “Love and Care” were sent on 13 March, some by air and some by sea. While the materials sent by air have reached the Gujarat victims, those by sea are still languishing at Mumbai (at the time of writing, i.e., 31 May) Instead, the port authorities have imposed taxes worth more than eight lakh rupees for their release. “We did not expect such treatments in the world’s largest democracy”, lamented Bi-khim Hsiao, a senior adviser to the Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian.
However, Dr Chang, who is also a professor emeritus of Pennsylvania State University in the US, attributes this state of affairs to “the imprudent behaviour” on the part of the ministry of external affairs (MEA), saying that Prime Minister Vajpayee and Indian people would have never approved of what was done to him, had they been informed about the matter. “India’s ministry of external affairs suffers from Sino-phobia. No wonder why the Chinese do not take Indians seriously”, he says, adding “MEA officials told me that such a huge amount of relief material, that, too, from a single private organisation in Taiwan, will anger China whose total relief-help was of only 60,000 US dollars”.
In fact, many Taiwanese officials and intellectuals find India’s “fear” of China puzzling. On the one hand, India impresses them enormously as a nuclear and missile power with unlimited potentials in the field of information technology. “A country like India should not be left out on Taiwan’s map of expanding relations and trade,” says Rex Wang, editor-in-chief of the influential Taiwan News. On the other hand, there are the likes of Albert JF Lin, a reputed nuclear scientist and a former legislator who find it virtually “insulting” to deal with “an India living under the shadow of 1962 defeat by China”.
India has plenty to learn from the Taiwanese experience, particularly from the phenomenon of its small and medium sized industries accounting for 98 per cent of all business in the country, 80 per cent of all business employment, and 25 per cent of all direct export value.
Many senior officials in the office of the President and Taiwan’s foreign ministry with whom this writer interacted agreed with Mr Lin that there was no “reciprocity” in Indo-Taiwan relations. In the absence formal diplomatic relations, believe as New Delhi does like all major world-capitals in “one-China policy”, India and Taiwan coordinate their relations through their respective Economic and Cultural Centres in each other’s capital. However, the Taiwanese complain that whereas in “a democratic Taiwan”, the Indian representative is free to meet any political and official functionary at any level, including the senior ministers, his Taiwanese counterpart in the world’s largest democracy is required to operate through the MEA only.
Leading Taiwanese scholars like Chong-Pin Lin of the Mainland Affairs Council, Arthur S Ding of Taipei’s Institute of International Relations and Ou Si-Fu of the Institute for National Policy Research cite many factors why India and Taiwan should improve their working relationship. After all, so run their argument, India is not the only major country in the region with which Taiwan does not have diplomatic relations. Japan, South Korea, the ASEAN countries, not to speak of the US, do not recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty. And yet, their engagement with Taipei is multi-dimensional. The same should be the case between India and Taiwan, they argue. Among many reasons that they cite for this, three are particularly noteworthy.
First, given the importance of China in India’s foreign policy, Indian policy makers, foreign policy analysts and think tanks must understand Beijing well. This is particularly so when India does not have China-experts worth the name. And the best way to improve this state of affairs is to interact with the Taiwanese scholars who are considered to be among the best China-watchers in the world. The Taiwanese scholars proudly say that no other place in the world conducts as extensive and intensive research on communist China as theirs does. “It is not that our researchers are only critical of Beijing. After all, you should realise that there is a powerful section in Taiwan which approves of China’s present economic, defence and foreign policies”, said Ding. The point is if there were regular academic and journalistic exchanges between India and Taiwan, the two would benefit. In particular, the Indian analysts would gain better insight of China.
Secondly, there can be mutually beneficial exchanges of information between the intelligence agencies and militaries of the two on a range of issues such as cyber hacking, navigation security, sea-piracy, international terrorism and strategic matters. Similar exchanges take place between the Taiwanese agencies and their counterparts in the US, South Korea and Japan, to name a few. Even if one treats the interactions between Taiwan and the US as unique and quite complex, the fact that Tokyo and Seoul share strategic information with Taipei is interesting given the fact that they have much more stake than New Delhi in maintaining friendly relations with Beijing, given their quantum of trade with and investments in Mainland China, let alone their geopolitical links. True, Beijing may not like such interactions, but then the overall national interests of a country in cultivating relations with another must not be made hostage to the Beijing-factor. The point is if Japan and South Korea can do it, why not India.
Thirdly, there are tremendous scopes for economic cooperation between India and Taiwan, which, now, is not progressing much because of what Taipei says the reluctance on New Delhi’s part to speed up the process towards the conclusion of bilateral agreements on investment protection and avoidance of double taxation. As it is, with a GNP worth of 288 billion US dollars, Taiwan is one of Asia’s four “tiger economies” (others being South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong), one of the largest exporters of the world and holder of the third largest foreign exchange reserves. Its annual growth rate has been one of the highest in the world (about seven per cent) and the per capita income of its 23 million people is 15,600 US dollars.
MEA-promoted theory running in corridors of power that India cannot behave normally with Taiwan, since China can react by fishing in the troubled waters of Kashmir. Nothing can be more bizarre than this comparison of Kashmir with Taiwan.
India has plenty to learn from the Taiwanese experience, particularly from the phenomenon of its small and medium sized industries accounting for 98 per cent of all business in the country, 80 per cent of all business employment, and 25 per cent of all direct export value. Taiwan also happens to be 4th in the world behind the US, Japan and South Korea in terms of its production value in the field of computer industry. It ranks third behind the US and Japan in terms of information hardware output (US $17.7 billion). And Taiwan is first worldwide in the production of many products, such as computer scanners, motherboards, handheld computers and displays.
Incidentally, the Taiwanese policy makers would like to cultivate India’s software industry the most, particularly at a time when the. Indian software giants are looking for alternate markets for collaboration following the recession in Silicon Valley. The Taiwanese eagerness in this field could also be explained by the fact that they are having second thoughts about their growing investments in Mainland China (Taiwan is the third largest investor in Communist China after Hong Kong and the US; in fact, largest portion of Taiwan’s outward investment, 39 per cent of the total, has gone to the mainland).
Apart from the fears that 300, 000 Taiwanese doing business in the mainland could in future become hostages of Beijing, the Taiwanese officials believe that their products would lose technological edge and innovation in the long run if their businessmen continue to engage in low-added value production activities in the mainland because of the cheap labour and establishments costs there. Their point is that since technological innovation is the key component to long-term sustained growth in this age of competitive globalisation, Taiwanese businessmen deepening their ties with “developing China”, which is weak at innovation, will be suicidal after some years. The solution, according to them, lies in establishing strategic R&D alliances with global innovation centres. And here, they find the possibility of collaboration between the Taiwanese hardware and Indian software extremely promising.
“However, all this would be possible if India is not too sensitive to China”, said Dr Chang. He does not understand why a power like India cannot have a healthy relationship with Taiwan, even within the constraints of the lack of diplomatic relations, when the rest of the world is managing that. After all, Taiwan is going to exist in its present form for a foreseeable future, particularly now that the Bush administration has made it clear that the US would not allow the forcible takeover of Taiwan by China.