‘India–Taiwan relations could evolve into a defining partnership in the Indo-Pacific,’ says Indian scholar Sana Hashmi

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The term “Indo-Pacific” resonates as a buzz word in many conversations in Taiwan. But what does the term refer to and how is it understood in the growing Taiwan–India relationship?

Faced with growing hostility and military threats from China, Taiwan is seeking to lessen its economic dependency on its neighbor. Taipei is also seeking a stronger political, diplomatic and strategic relationship with other countries also affected Beijing's territorial and maritime claims, such as the Philippines, Vietnam and India. Taiwan is discussing opening its market to Indian migrant workers, and is increasing its industrial presence in India.

For more on China's territorial claims, read: The Chinese 2023 map has nothing new. But why are China's neighbors mad about it? 

To answer what is understood by “Indo-pacific” in Taiwan and in India, Global Voices spoke to Indian scholar Sana Hashmi, PhD, a fellow at the Taiwan Asia Exchange Foundation and  the George H. W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations. She also tweets @sanahashmi1. The interview was conducted over email and is edited for style and brevity.

Sana Hashmi, photo used with permission

Filip Noubel (FN): The term “Indo-Pacific” is used more often now in Taiwan as a buzzword by politicians, but also by media and part of civil society. Can you unpack it from both Indian and Taiwanese perspectives? 

Sana Hashmi (SN): The term Indo-Pacific carries varying interpretations for different countries, reflecting a range of interests and approaches, with some commonalities and disparities. In the case of India and Taiwan, there are both shared perceptions and distinctions regarding the Indo-Pacific construct and their roles within it.

India views the Indo-Pacific concept as primarily revolving around the accommodation of its own rise while envisaging a greater role in shaping the changing geopolitical landscape. Taiwan perceives it as an opportunity to advance cooperation with like-minded countries and as a means to deter and counter China’s aggressive actions. India places strong emphasis on regional and global partnerships as central to the Indo-Pacific region. Taiwan sees it as a platform for the United States to strengthen its alliances and partnerships in the region and as a conduit for Taiwan to connect with countries sharing overarching interests and concerns.

Despite some divergent perspectives, there exist common principles and objectives among India, Taiwan, and other likeminded countries. These include a dedication to preserving sovereignty, upholding the rule of law, and advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific. While their approaches may differ, the ultimate goal of a stable and peaceful Indo-Pacific remains consistent for both India and Taiwan.

FN: How would you qualify the (mis)understanding of India, its issues and perspectives in Taiwan among the government? Within the media? 

SH: There persist several stereotypes about India among the Taiwanese population, although most of these stereotypes are inaccurate. These misconceptions often arise because the primary source of global news for many Taiwanese news channels is major Western media outlets, which can sometimes exhibit bias and lack a comprehensive understanding of India. One effective solution to dispel these stereotypes is for both individual Taiwanese citizens and the media to actively seek firsthand information about India. India is a country that exists within Taiwan’s extended neighbourhood and shares common concerns, particularly in the face of China’s military aggression. It would be prudent for the Taiwanese government and media to make an effort to understand India, which remains an enigma in many ways.

India plays a crucial role in maintaining stability in the Indo-Pacific region, a fact that cannot be overstated. Strengthening ties with India is undeniably in Taiwan’s best interest. Therefore, it is essential for the Taiwanese government and media to recognize the significance of India’s role and work towards fostering a better understanding and cooperation between the two countries.

FN: Beyond the obvious China and Tibet issues, what is the current common ground for both India and Taiwan in terms of aligned views? 

SH: A closer examination of the two countries’ policies (such as India's Act East Policy and Taiwan's New Southbound Policy) and statements from leaders reveals a shared worldview of India and Taiwan on several issues. Both have placed a significant emphasis on regional engagements, advocating for a free and open Indo-Pacific, and expressing a commitment to fostering stability in the region.

India and Taiwan are acutely aware of India’s expanding economic influence and recognise the potential role that Taiwan could play in this scenario. The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with China’s coercive and isolationist policies, has compelled countries worldwide to contemplate decoupling/de-risking and diversifying the supply chains, ensuring they are not overly reliant on a single market. This shift reflects a broader trend where countries, including India and Taiwan, are seeking alternative supply chain to navigate the evolving global economic landscape and secure their interests.

FN: What are the most promising aspects of Indian-Taiwanese cooperation in any field: political, civil society, economic, educational, cultural or other?

SH: India–Taiwan relations hold immense potential and could evolve into a robust and defining partnership in the Indo-Pacific. Despite their geographically complex locations, both countries occupy strategically significant positions. They share a common challenge in dealing with China, which infringes upon their sovereignty and disrupts the stability of the Indo-Pacific. Unfortunately, various constraints, ignorance, and occasional neglect often result in missed opportunities for cooperation.

India and Taiwan are actively exploring avenues to enhance their relationship in multiple areas. Both nations are shifting their focus away from tensions with China and are seeking to broaden the scope of their ties. Primary among these areas, which fall within the realm of unofficial relations, are education, economics, technology, and culture. Significant strides have already been made to bolster existing areas of cooperation between the two countries.

India is rising, and Taiwan stands to both contribute to and benefit from India’s growth. There are a number of areas where these two countries could bolster their collaboration, particularly in sectors such as semiconductors and electric vehicles. Furthermore, Taiwan is keenly interested in attracting talent from India as part of its New Southbound Policy framework. The objective is to draw individuals with diverse skill sets who can assist in addressing Taiwan’s demographic challenges, including its shrinking population and the need for a replenished talent pool.

There are overarching areas where mutual interests align, and progress is underway. India places significant importance on safeguarding Taiwan, as a takeover by China would adversely impact India’s regional interests. While the extent of India’s involvement in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan remains uncertain, there is a notable consideration and reevaluation occurring among Indian policymakers regarding this matter.

The time is opportune for India and Taiwan to strengthen their ties. The realisation of their potential is evident; the key now is to navigate the challenges posed by China and concentrate on mutual benefits. Strengthening their relationship not only benefits both countries individually but also holds the potential to positively impact the broader Indo-Pacific region, serving as a stabilising force.

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