How the Trilateral India-US-China Relations Affects Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific Strategy|Roger C. Liu

Published (HKT): 2020.10.19 10:19

Taiwan has not been so visible in India like in the past few months. After the deadly conflict erupted between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Indian Army in the Galwan Valley of Aksai Chin straddling the China-India border, this small island nation has become one major topic of the talk of the town discussed by various pundits and experts on TV channels.

Days before Taiwan’s National Day, a harsh statement was issued by the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi, warning the media portals of India to abide by the “One China Policy” and not to use terms like “Republic of China” or “Taiwan” to refer the small island nation as an independent country. This finally infuriated many Indians, who have turned to sympathize with Taiwan and understand how it has been thriving under the threats by China in the past decades.

More Indian audience begin to understand that Taiwan has maintained a long close relationship with the US in defense and security. Recent improvements of India-Taiwan relations also happens to be positively correlated with that of US-Indian relations. Besides the “China threat,” India’s foreign policy changes gradually made in the two terms of Narendra Modi is the biggest “pushing hand” to draw Washington and New Delhi closer to each other in the past few years.

Many In Taiwan like to believe that India is a staunch ally of the US in South Asia. That is not true. The largest democracy and the most powerful democracy have been in fact at odds with each other most of the time during the Cold War. Known as the advocate of the “Pan-Arianism,” Jawaharlal Nehru was more willing to work with China before the Sino-Indian War of 1962. The US support of Pakistan in the 1970s also drove New Delhi to Moscow, as the socialist ways of development had dictated the Indian economic planning for decades. The idea of “strategic autonomy”—staying away from the US influence and coordination for in the making and implementation of Indian foreign policy—has prevailed for a long time in the South Block.

Not until the Obama term that the US-Indian relations saw a breakthrough as the security collaboration between Washington and New Delhi began to grow. India is referred to as a “major defense partner” of the US for the first time in history. US weapon systems such as the AH-64E attack helicopters and the P-8I anti-submarine aircrafts are equipped in the Indian Air Force and Navy to counter the growing Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). In November 2019, the Indian and US armed forces had the first-ever joint tri-service military exercise of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).

Who wins US Presidential Election will Indefinitely Decide Where QUAD Will Go

In the third 2+2 bilateral meetings scheduled at the end of October, Washington and New Delhi Would hopefully sign the “Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA),” allowing the sharing of geospatial and sensor data for important military targets between the armed forces of the two nations. As the last piece of the national security puzzle is near completion, the goal of the Trump and Modi administrations to forge a Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership is also approaching, which is unprecedented for both countries.

After the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan earlier this year, China has adopted a tough stance on border issues with India, pushing India further into a closer collaborative relationship with the United States. Right at this moment, the atmosphere in New Delhi began to change, as India has more boldly sought the collaboration with Taiwan in security affairs.

The appointment of Mr. Gouranga Lal Das as the new Director-General for the India-Taipei Association (ITA)—the de facto Indian embassy to Taiwan—could well symbolize more wholistic thinking in the South Block to plan its future policy towards Taiwan in the framework of US-India relations. Before assuming his new position in Taipei, Mr. Das was the Joint Secretary of the Americas in the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and had participated in the coordination with his counterparts from Japan, Australia and the US within the QUAD framework.

India’s policy towards Taiwan will rely on three dimensions: the relationship with China, the will to further collaborate with the US and its attitude towards the QUAD.

India’s China policy has turned more realist and pragmatic under Modi and his second-term EAM S. Jaishankar. Especially after the fatal conflicts near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in mid-June, the possibility to take advantage of the US-China trade war has completely disappeared on South Block’s list of policy options. Strategic planners in New Delhi begin to realize the hard cold fact that to counter China at the gate, they will have to work more with the US and other Western countries.

The olive branch passed out by Beijing and the talks at different levels of bilateral mechanisms built up in the past decades, including the previous two informal summits between Modi and Xi, are proven futile in the solution of border issues. The PLA craftily bypassed the “no-firing zones” agreement and used clubs and rocks to deadly engage their Indian counterparts. Detailed tactics and maneuvering plans had been made to occupy more lands by inching forward in areas such as Pangong Tso and Galwan Valley. If New Delhi still naively believes that diplomatic talks can make peace, then it is very likely that finally, India will only become a pawn on the grand geopolitical chessboard of Beijing.

The key factor for the future development of US-India security collaboration in the framework of QUAD will then be the American politics hinged on the results of the general election in November. In the past two years, we have seen a more fortified QUAD, as more and more bilateral agreements have been inked between the US, Japan, Australia and India. The call for an institutionalized QUAD, or even an Asian version of NATO has also been discussed and further promoted.

However, the intention of Washington still remains the key factor for the sustaining and development of QUAD in the future. The victory by the Democrats could mean the comeback of multilateral arrangements or collective security agreements. QUAD could be replaced by a new multilateral framework, transformed from the quasi-alliance to a loosely-formed multifunctional forum, or, at its worst, become dormant again, just like what happened in 2008.

Taiwan should integrate into the QUAD framework as soon as possible

Should the new U.S. administration manage to make peace with China after the election—even symbolically—India’s policy towards China will inevitably adjust accordingly, as the room for Taipei to maneuver will be reduced as a result.

Taiwan should properly seize the opportunity to further integrate into the QUAD structure before the election to avoid any uncertainty, and consider how to promote security cooperation with India as soon as possible under the current collaborative atmosphere between India and the US. President Tsai and her government should also prepare for what would be coming so that the New Southbound Policy (NSP) could be adjusted accordingly.

(Roger C. Liu/Associate Professor, Department of Social Sciences and Director of the Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, FLAME University (CSSAS FLAME))

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