Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ma to India June 12-13

Over the last couple of years India and Taiwan have been inching closer together. Ma Ying-jeou, Presidential candidate of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), is off to India this week, an important signal of growing India-Taiwan ties. The Chennai Centre for China Studies has a long article on the topic....

If reports appearing in Taiwan media and sections of Indian and world press are true, Taiwan’s Kuo Ming Tang (KMT) Presidential candidate, Ma Ying-Jeou is to pay a visit to India on Jun 12-13, 2007. Ma is basically a politician and had held the high posts of Minister for Justice, KMT Chairman and Taipei Mayor and is now being considered by many as a front-runner in the next year’s Presidential elections in Taiwan. It is not yet known who in India will be hosting the Taiwan leader and whether or not he will meet any Indian government or political personality. Under its ‘one-China’ policy, India has so far taken care to avoid any high level official contacts with Taiwan. It even did not permit the proposed visit of the then Taiwan Vice President Annette Lu to Gujarat in 2001 to distribute earthquake relief material. New Delhi is likely to persist with such policy while dealing with Ma’s visit, so as not to jeopardise its strategically important ties with Beijing. Expectations are that the KMT leader’s visit will be treated by New Delhi as purely ‘unofficial’ and that the hosts will be from non-governmental bodies in India. Can there be any hidden political meaning then behind the proposed visit? This question may look justified, as every one is aware that a leader of Ma Ying-Jeou’s standing cannot come to India without the tacit understanding of the government there.

The chances of the Taiwan leader’s contacts with some of India’s political figures, not holding official positions, cannot be ruled out under the circumstances. Events in the past, particularly since the establishment of respective non-official Trade Offices in 1995, confirm such pattern. Not long ago, the Indian politician George Fernandez visited Taiwan (2004) to attend a symposium organised by the authoritative ‘Taiwan Think tank’, an institution sponsored by all the political parties there. A Taiwan delegation led by Ms Maysing Yang came to India (October-November 2005), which met I.K.Gujral, L.K.Advani among others. The process providing for contacts between the parliamentarians of the two sides, which began in 2006, also merits viewing from a political angle. For the first time, a group of Taiwanese legislators led by Hou Shui-Sheng of the ruling, but independence leaning, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) paid a visit to India in February that year and met some politicians (e.g Dr Satyanarayan Jaitia, a member of Indian Parliament, former Central Minister and leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party). Hou later claimed that the visit could take place in spite of Chinese protests to India.

China’s attitude towards India-Taiwan contacts has so far been positive, based on its realisation that New Delhi adheres to ‘one-China’ policy. The PRC Ambassador in New Delhi has himself praised such policy. Also, China does not seem to make an issue out of India’s hesitation, unlike other nations like Pakistan and Bangladesh, to use the terminology of “inalienable part of China ” while describing Taiwan in its official documents. Coming to the proposed KMT leader’s visit to India, Beijing can be expected to be watchful, but it may not oppose the event as long as India keeps it ‘unofficial’. Setting China’s general policy in this regard, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson stated (April 26, 2006) , “China does not challenge Taiwan’s exchange with other parts of the world of non-official nature. China has taken many flexible measures on the basis of one-China principle to facilitate Taiwan’s overseas economic and cultural exchanges. But China is firmly opposed to secessionist activities of Taiwan authorities in various disguises”.

Note that some contacts have already occurred. India is the logical counterweight to China, a nation that both Taiwan and Japan should be cultivating better relations with. The author does not appear to understand the extent to which Beijing and the KMT are cooperating, and believes that the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) binds the US to defend Taiwan, when it does no such thing. The author then goes on to discuss the strategic factors behind the visit:

Going beyond the specifics involving Ma Ying-Jeou’s visit to India, what is being witnessed at present relate to the rapidly changing regional strategic perceptions of both Taipei and New Delhi; these perceptions stem from reasons different for each side, but in the end provide a common ground to both for getting closer. In early 90s, Taiwan and India initiated their respective “ Go South” and “Look East” policies, aimed at achieving integration of their economies with that of ASEAN growth. The rapid rise of China in the later years broadened their outlook; Taiwan became apprehensive of the high risks involved in becoming more and more dependent on the overheated Chinese economy. Its cross- strait investment reached the level of US$ 100 billion. China turned into the biggest market for Taiwan. Strategically, Taipei is becoming more and more unsure of Beijing’s intentions on reunification, not ruling out the use of force. Also, some in Taiwan may fear that the US is allowing China to play a bigger role on regional affairs, thus creating regional imbalance. Politically, Taipei is becoming increasingly aware of the rising geo-political importance of India and the latter’s potential in countering China’s growing clout in the region. It has come to view Indian democracy as a source of strength. Also, the changing views of the West, particularly the US, on India’s future role in the region, especially attract Taipei.

On the part of India, its desire to play an expanded role in East Asia, through forging strong ties with ASEAN nations, establishing a relation of strategic partnership with China and Japan as well as improving ties with Taiwan, without factoring Taipei-Beijing relations, has come to dominate policy directions. New Delhi also eyes on benefits from economic cooperation with Taiwan. On a number of fields like counter-terrorism, WMDs, environment etc, India might consider teaming up with Taiwan, useful. In a nutshell, while for Taiwan, the China factor and compulsions to end diplomatic isolation, appear to be the main motivating factors in promoting India ties, India while engaging China, sees in its connectivity to Taiwan, an East Asian entity, a helpful factor not tapped earlier, for its efforts to integrate with the whole of East Asia; The fact that India is already participating in the East Asian summits could be relevant in this regard.

In a background of their rather overlapping motivating factors as given above, Taiwan and India are searching for new ways to get closer to each other. Former Taiwan Premier Yu Shih-kun launched the second wave of the Government’s “Go South policy” to include India in 2005. Since then, Taiwan has been expressing its keenness to sign a FTA with India. The Taiwan-India Cooperation Council (TICC), a brainchild of National Security Council of Taiwan, with Yu Shih-kun as its first Director, started functioning in Taipei in 2006, with the aim of promoting governmental level contacts between the two sides. A representative of President Chen Shui-bian was present at the time of TICC’s inauguration. Information Technology and Infrastructure have been identified as two key areas for Cooperation.

After noting the insignificant trade between Taipei and New Delhi (less than US$3 billion), the author then cautions Indian politicians...

A word of caution to politicians in India, who may be meeting the visiting KMT leader, may be appropriate. The KMT’s position on the Sino-Indian boundary does not differ from that of the PRC. In the past, the KMT had criticised the PRC for discussing with India matters relating to China’s possible concessions to India on the Sino-Indian boundary question. Also, the KMT considers the whole of Tibet and Mongolia as part of China as per Articles 119 and 120 of the “Republic of China” Constitution, though there has been a nuanced change in recent years in the position concerning Tibet, with the formation in 2003 of a new Taiwan-Tibet Cultural Exchange Foundation, to replace the existing Tibetan-Mongolian Commission. Though the visit of Ma to India is expected to be basically economic in nature, it would be advisable for the Indian interlocutors to bear in mind the KMT’s positions on India-China border and Tibet during talks.

The KMT remains a Chinese nationalist party, and its positions are in opposition to those of India and in synch with Beijing's. Taiwan is not the only issue that the KMT shares with the PRC. Recall that last year, on the eve of talks with India, China claimed an entire Indian state:

Just a week ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit to India, Beijing's envoy in New Delhi Sun Yuxi has claimed that Arunachal Pradesh is a Chinese territory.

"In our position, the whole of the state of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory. And Tawang is only one of the places in it. We are claiming all of that. That is our position," Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Yuxi said on Monday.

China and India have had one war and several boundary clashes over their claims in the Himal, which is one of the most important flashpoints for war in the world, though the least-recognized. This article from International Boundary Monitor looks at the situation....

China and India have yet to address their fundamental and very large land boundary disputes. Moreover, their bilateral relations are complicated by the issues of Tibet (Xizang), Sikkim, and Kashmir. India plays host to the Dalai Lama and a large number of Tibetan refugees. They present an implicit threat to Chinese control of Tibet, which it invaded in 1950. On its maps, the PRC continues to portray Sikkim, which was absorbed by India in 1974, as an independent country. In addition to the Aksai Chin, China and India dispute another section of Kashmir (the area west of Aksai Chin).

Theoretically, China and India agreed in 2005 to resolve the issue, but China appears to be in no hurry to do so, preferring to keep the issue alive as a way to keep pressure on India.

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