In a move that signals a change in relations with China, India has appointed a senior diplomat to Taiwan. The move follows the standoff with China at Galwan that on June 15 escalated into the killing of 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers.
Previously, India, wary of China’s sensitivity over any ties with Taiwan, had appointed lower-ranking officials, and experts say this appointment is significant in showing India’s desire for more interaction with the island nation.
The just-announced envoy, Gourangalal Das, is currently handling the India–United States relationship in India’s Ministry of External Affairs, according to a July 12 report by the Indian Express, an Indian national daily.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a distinguished fellow with the Observer Research Foundation, told The Epoch Times in an email from New Delhi: “India’s recent appointment of a new envoy to Taiwan has a message for China, one would assume. It could have been a routine affair, but the fact that India went ahead with the change in the middle of the [Galwan] stand-off is important.”
Dr. S. Chandrasekharan, director of the South Asia Analysis Group, is of the opinion that Das’s appointment is significant because he’s a higher-ranked official, and this means the interaction between India and Taiwan “has gone to a higher level.”
“We have appointed a very senior official to continue the relationship. This means greater importance is given to interaction with Taiwan,” Chandrasekharan said. Earlier, junior officials were appointed as the two countries interacted mostly for trade, but a senior official means quicker diplomatic intervention when needs arise, as matters can be addressed directly higher up in the government, he said.
Das’s appointment comes weeks after India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party asked two of its members of Parliament to virtually attend the swearing-in ceremony of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on May 20. The standoff in Galwan started two weeks before that.
Because of India’s one-China policy, it doesn’t have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and the diplomatic functions are run by the India–Taipei Association (ITA). Das will be the ITA’s new director-general, and his background as a diplomat working on India–U.S. relationships is significant.
“The fact that he is someone who understands the U.S. and the importance of U.S.-India relationship is significant,” said Rajagopalan.
Gourangalal Das, India’s next envoy to Taiwan, is fluent in Mandarin, served in Beijing for roughly eight years, in the PMO’s office, in Washington DC, as Joint Secretary (Americas), and established the MEA’s in-house think tank on China after Doklam.https://t.co/a620Q2hM1C https://t.co/gusqCWd0bC
— Jeff M. Smith (@Cold_Peace_) July 12, 2020
Experts said the new development won’t make China happy because India’s improved relationships with Taiwan threaten its expansionist agenda.
“Of course, China is not going to be happy at the prospect of a strengthened India-Taiwan relationship. China will resist, protest in whatever ways it can, but India has to do what is in its national interests,” said Rajagopalan.
“It will not go to the extent of India recognizing Taiwan as a separate country, but there will be more interaction,” said Chandrasekharan, adding that China can’t now effectively object. “We no longer have to take too seriously Chinese sensitivity on this issue.”
Rajagopalan said that until Galwan happened, India, to maintain smooth relations with China, hadn’t done much on the Taiwan front. Now things are different.
“India could do a number of things bilaterally as well as in the multilateral setting to step up its relations with Taiwan,” said Rajagopalan. It is now expected that India would change its stand about Taiwan’s presence at the World Health Organization where India is the newly appointed chair of the Executive Board.
Aparna Pande, director of the Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia at the Hudson Institute, told The Epoch Times over a chat platform that China doesn’t respect a one-India policy and claims ownership over certain Indian territories. In the current situation, enhanced relationships with Taiwan could mean reciprocity, she said.
“India, like the U.S. and other countries, may not suddenly change its big picture one-China policy. There are many who say that if China doesn’t have a one-India policy, neither should India. However, the relations with Taiwan have improved and will deepen on the economic, strategic, and human capital dimension,” Pande said.
Meanwhile, the Chinese ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, in a statement on July 10 reminded the two countries about their policy of non-interference in each other’s affairs.
“We need to respect and accommodate mutual core interests and major concerns, adhere to the principle of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs,” he said, according to the Indian Express.
Taiwanese Investments in India
Taiwanese company and Apple supplier Foxconn announced in the second week of July a $1 billion investment to expand a factory in south India that assembles iPhones. Experts say post-Galwan India could open up more trade with Taiwan. Foxconn is one of the three electronic companies currently with investments in India.
“Economic ties are the solid foundation of any relationship,” Pande said. “Yes, every investment that is in manufacturing or technology that goes to another country doesn’t go to China.”
Rajagopalan said Taiwan has been seeking a greater economic presence in India for many years because trade and investment are a part of the Tsai Ing-wen government’s New Southbound Policy.
Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy is an effort to expand Taiwan’s presence across the Indo-Pacific, which includes the ten countries of ASEAN, six states in South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan), Australia, and New Zealand, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
“India could be expected to loosen up some restrictions and incentivize the Taiwanese participation in India’s economic growth story. Again, India has been reluctant for many years, but it has been changing gradually how it has approached Taiwan in recent years,” said Rajagopalan.
She highlights an Indian Parliamentary Standing Committee report on foreign affairs that calls for “broadening as well as deepening” India’s relationship with Taiwan.
“But in the post-Galwan political climate, there could be more appetite within the government [for engaging Taiwan],” but she also said that India shouldn’t only look at “playing the Taiwan card” whenever it has a conflict with China.
“Instead, Taiwan should be pursued as an active partner in India’s Indo-Pacific strategy,” she said.