With Modi at the helm, India looks to be setting sail directly into the stormy seas of East Asian geopolitics. Not content with poking China in the eye by increasing military and political ties to Japan, Vietnam, and other China rivals, Delhi appears to be reaching out to Beijing’s single greatest adversary—Taiwan. As Parris Chang, the chief executive of a Taiwanese think tank, writes in the Taipei Times:
Whereas New Delhi turned down Beijing’s proposal to sign a Sino-Indian free-trade agreement (FTA), it took the initiative to express its intention to sign such a pact with Taiwan.
Equally significant, the announcement to forge an FTA with Taiwan was made in March 2011 not by the Indian Ministry of Economic Affairs, but by the foreign secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs…
In 2011, Taiwan-India trade increased more than 11 percent year-on-year to US$7.57 billion. Bilateral trade and Taiwanese investments in India are expected to expand significantly upon the conclusion of an FTA between the two countries. India, a major software exporter, and Taiwan, a leader in information technology and high-tech manufacturing, should forge joint ventures in India. In addition, Taiwan excels in the nano and biotechnology industries, and both countries should collaborate on these areas.
The Taipei-Delhi relationship is still small-scale compared to that of India and China and Indian and Japan—baby steps, for now. But those baby steps are significant. India is playing the field. Though trade with China is massive, Delhi looks nervously at its giant northern neighbor; on the campaign trail, Modi spoke in strong terms about Chinese encroachment on India’s strategic concerns, and since then Indian officials have made it clear India intends to play a prominent role in maintaining security and freedom of navigation in the South and East China Seas. Part of that effort, it seems, is building up India’s economic and strategic cooperation with Taiwan. Writes Chang:
Ignoring China’s protest, India’s Ministry of External Affairs approved in December 2012 the opening of a branch office of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center (Taiwan’s unofficial embassy) in Chennai. There is no mistaking that New Delhi and Taipei want to enhance their ties.
Taipei’s ambassador to India echoed that sentiment:
Taiwan would like to take the existing relationship with India to newer levels. We are optimistic that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership business relations will reach newer heights. We would like to work closely with the Modi government and its policies….
The synergy and complementarity of both countries – India’s software and Taiwan’s hardware – can help India and Taiwan create mutual benefit.
China won’t be pleased.