The participation of former Army Chief, General Manoj Naravane, Navy Chief, Admiral Karambir Singh and Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria in the recent ‘Ketagalan Forum 2023 – Indo-Pacific Security Dialogue’ hosted by Taiwan’s foreign ministry on August 8, 2023, made headline news.
A statement issued earlier by Taiwan’s foreign ministry read, “Taro Aso, former Prime Minister of Japan and current member of the House of Representatives and Vice President of the LDP, and Andrus Ansip, former Prime Minister of Estonia, will deliver keynote speeches. The roster of other guests comprises 14 parliamentarians, political figures, scholars, and experts from 12 countries, including Admiral Karambir Singh, Chairman of India’s National Maritime Foundation.”
Attending the opening of the dialogue, Taiwan’s President Tsai stated that maintaining the rule-based order is imperative for the region’s stability and prosperity, adding that Taiwan has dedicated itself to being part of the democratic alliance that works to prevent authoritarian expansionism. She also pointed out that Taiwan’s high-tech sector, especially with its leading edge in semiconductors, will be crucial to creating a secure global supply chain, and that Taiwan is a crucial force in nurturing an alliance for the peaceful development and prosperity of our region.
Taro Aso, former Prime Minister and vice president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Japan, said, “I believe that now is the time for Japan, Taiwan, the United States and other like-minded countries to be prepared to put into action very strong deterrence. It’s the resolve to fight and showing the will to do so as a form of deterrence.” He implied demonstrating the resolve to come to Taiwan’s defence in the event of an attack by China. China has responded by saying that the remarks “harmed the political foundation of China-Japan relations.”
Japan will invariably get sucked into a US-China war over Taiwan because of the presence of American troops stationed in Japan, particularly in Okinawa which is closer to Taiwan than mainland Japan. Commenting on the forum, Admiral Karambir Singh has stated that any conflict over Taiwan will have an impact across the globe economic as well as political which could be best avoided and India has adopted a multi alignment policy to stay above the power divide.
There is speculation that the presence of three former service chiefs at the Ketagalan Forum in Taiwan would have been approved and managed by India’s External Affairs Ministry and security establishment. This is unlikely because Taiwan has been inviting former service chiefs, other defence officials and scholars from India for security dialogues and forums since the past several years. This time, three former service chiefs were probably invited together because of the changed dynamics of the region and China’s aggressive moves over the Taiwan Straits and periodic exercises and live firing drills around Taiwan.
The Indian security establishment may or may not have been aware of the three former service chiefs attending the Ketagalan Forum but would have unlikely encouraged the move to ruffle Beijing’s feathers considering that the 19th Corps Commander-level India-China round of talks were slated for August 14, 2023. China anyway has responded to the Forum and Taro Aso’s remarks by saying these are not good for China-Japan relations.
In 1995, India established the India-Taipei Association in Taiwan, simultaneous to Taiwan establishing the Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre at New Delhi. In 2012, India approved the opening of a branch office of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre at Chennai. In 2018, India and Taiwan signed an updated bilateral investment agreement to expand bilateral ties.
China reacted to the India-Taiwan bilateral investment agreement of 2018 with its foreign ministry spokesperson saying, “China is firmly opposed to any official exchanges of any form and the signing of any agreement of official nature between Taiwan and any country having diplomatic relations with China. The Indian side should earnestly abide by the one-China principle and handle the Taiwan question prudently and properly.”
India has not established diplomatic relations with Taiwan and recognizes ‘One China’. Bilateral ties are centred on trade. In 2022, India-Taiwan bilateral trade reached a record high of US$8.5 billion, making India the 17th largest trade partner of Taiwan. By end 2021, around 106 Taiwanese companies had set up business operations in India, with the total investment amount of US$ 1.5 billion in fields of information and communication technology, medical devices, automobile components, machinery, steel, electronics, construction, engineering, financial services and the like.
Taiwan-based Foxconn, which is Apple’s largest supplier, has an iPhone manufacturing facility in Tamil Nadu. The company is now setting up another iPhone production facility in Karnataka that is expected to start production by April 2024. Significantly, Foxconn is in talks with Taiwan’s chip-making giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) and Japan’s TMH Group for a joint venture and technology partnership to start semiconductor fab units in India.
According to the media, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Anil Chauhan has asked the three services to come up with suggestions and options for India in the event of a full-blown crisis. This is perfectly normal considering that China-US war over Taiwan would affect India and its economy. Moreover, China simultaneously activating the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with the continuing three-year standoff can hardly be ruled out.
However, the speculation in the media that the presence of three former service chiefs together at the Ketagalan Forum indicates India has expanded its relations with Taiwan to the “quasi military sphere” is naïve rhetoric without substance. The Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre at New Delhi has always had a serving Colonel from Taiwan for the past several decades. But India has desisted from posting any Armed Forces personnel incognito at the India-Taipei Association in Taipei.
Of the several G20 meetings chaired by India in the past months, China did not attend the ones held at Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and at Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh. But it is upto the Government of India how and when to send stronger signal (s) to China. Post defence officers in the India-Taipei Association in Taipei? Not only does China not recognize ‘One India’, according to a Member of Rajya Sabha, China distributed maps showing Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh as part of China and J&K as part of Pakistan during the SCO Summit in Uzbekistan in September 2022, attended by Xi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
At the end of a multilateral discussion in Taiwan during 2010, which was also attended by a former Indian navy chief, a question raised from the audience was in case of a natural calamity in Taiwan, will India send a disaster relief team to Taiwan? Isn’t that question relevant even today?
Is it too difficult to say if you don’t recognize one-India, we don’t recognize one-China anymore; rather than blaming a former prime minister for having recognized one-China? Haven’t we been backstabbed by China umpteen times and China breaking every agreement, for us to stand up, given the government’s stand that we are ready for anything – or are we saying so without any conviction? It is up to the Indian government to call China’s bluff.