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Taiwan’s Critical Position in the Indo-Pacific: Implications for India

The year 2022 was quite eventful for Taiwan as China did not stop its bullying tactics against the island nation and has been building up its military offensive against it. Taiwan constitutes a vital component of Indo Pacific region due to its crucial geographical and strategic position. To a significant extent, it is also due to the island nation’s critical position regarding Sino-US relations. 

Taiwan’s strategic location connects the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan. India is among the politically prominent players in the Indo- Pacific region along with China, Japan, Australia, South Korea, and the countries of Southeast Asia. Shifting geopolitical calculations, with China’s emergence as a major player and the declining role of the United States as a major power, have moved global focus toward the Indo-Pacific region. Today, the region has become home to numerous flashpoints as Beijing desires to turn the power balance in its favour, while Washington is wary of Chinese intentions. There are several unresolved territorial and maritime issues in the Indo-Pacific region. China’s hostile claims on East and South China sea regions have led to competing territorial claims being raised by counties, such as Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. 

The relative decline of US influence in the Indo-Pacific has opened new opportunities for other significant powers such as Japan, Australia, and India to become active in preserving political stability and supporting economic sustainability in the Indo-Pacific Region. India is a prominent Asian power. Indo- Pacific is both a strategic and a profitable realm that includes pivotal marine routes that link the coastlands of the two abysses.

Many countries, including India, have a serious worry about Beijing’s intervention or greater Chinese presence within the Indo- Pacific and in the international community means for issues such as human rights, rule of law, democracy, and the most burning territorial issue like Taiwan. China’s increasing presence close to the territorial waters, and ambitious projects in the neighbourhood under the Belt and Road Initiative are a direct threat to India’s position as the main security provider and regional power.

Taiwan also has great geopolitical significance in the Indo- Pacific Region. The island is located in the middle of what the United States considered its “forward defense perimeter” in the 1950s and what China now considers the so-called “First Island Chain”, which runs from Japan through the Ryukyus, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Taiwan protects immediate access to the Western Pacific via the Yonaguni Strait between Taiwan and Japan, and the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines. On the east coast, Taiwan’s deep-water naval bases at Su’ao and Hualien allow submarines to directly slip unnoticed into one of the deepest maritime channels in the Pacific. Therefore, Taiwan is crucial for Beijing not only politically but also for its geopolitical significance. Taiwan has been facing an increasingly aggressive China since 2021.

New speculations and anxiety have surfaced about the political future of the island nation as Chinese President Xi Jinping, on 8th October 2021 declared China’s possible peaceful “reunification” with Taiwan. This controversial statement came after Beijing sent a record number of military jets into Taiwan's defence zone. Since the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) Tsai Ing Wen became the President of Taiwan in 2016, Beijing resorted to a series of aggressive actions against Taipei, which included economic pressures and military bullying. 

President Xi during China’s 20th Communist Party Congress held in October 2022, renewed the vow to reunify the PRC with Taiwan. President Xi’s wish is made even more real by an increased People Liberation Army’s (PLA) activities surrounding Taiwan and Japan’s southwestern islands. The world is a witness that PLA’s movements surrounding Taiwan have increased tremendously in recent months. According to media reports, from July to August 2022, there was a 766% increase in the monthly average of PLA aircraft flying around Taiwan’s airspace. 

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taipei even fueled these activities. Beijing was furious as Washington “blatantly violated China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it also launched missiles, which landed in Japan’s economic exclusion-zone waters after passing over the Taiwan Strait. The PLA Navy also retaliated as the presence of defense vessels in the waters surrounding the island significantly increased since Pelosi’s visit. 

China repeatedly claims that Taiwan is no longer just a sovereignty issue for China but a key component in achieving a geopolitical victory in the China-US great power rivalry and challenging the Indo-Pacific rules-based order. This motive in Chinese territorial behaviour is a cause for worry for India and some other fellow democracies. New Delhi advocates a rules-based, open, balanced liberal order and stable trading environment in the Indo- Pacific region.

India looks at the Indo- Pacific as an open, libertarian, and democratic zone. So, New Delhi must protect Taiwan to ensure rules-based liberal order in the Indo-Pacific region. However, according to several China experts, the journey of India- Taiwan relations has happened under the shadow of China only. Taiwan never featured prominently within India’s Act East Policy as always been overshadowed by much bigger Sino- Indian ties. 

Reacting to all the complaints from Taipei, New Delhi finally broke its silence in August 2019 as India’s Ministry of External Affair’s spokesperson made a short and calculated statement as Beijing was overreacting during Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan in the same month. Reacting to the Chinese pressure around Taiwan Strait, New Delhi rejected any unilateral action to change the status quo and to maintain peace and stability in the region. Taiwan appreciated India’s stand. 

The PRC strictly practices the “one China” policy and has always considered “Taiwan” as an inseparable piece of mainland China. Over the years, the concept of the “one China” principle evolved along with China’s attempt to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity. According to Harsh P. Pant (2022) from the Observer Research Foundation, the omission of the “one China” principle in the official statement from the Ministry of External Affairs is intentional. It was shared in 2014 by then-Indian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sushma Swaraj, that Beijing could not expect India to verbalize its support when China has ignored Indian sovereignty concerns in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. Beijing reacted immediately as Sun Weidong, Chinese envoy to India called on the Indian Government to reiterate its support for the “one China” principle. 

There are numerous benefits if New Delhi engages more closely with Taipei. Taiwan is a young democracy in East Asia, which offers a pluralistic and inclusive experience to its residents. Taiwan’s vibrant democratic model, which is praised in the Indo- Pacific region for its openness and transparency, could oppose PRC’s authoritarian development model. The Indo- Pacific region deserves more free and democratic liber democracies like Taiwan.

So, it is the responsibility of all the major democracies of the region to protect Taiwan from potential Chinese invasion as the PRC attempts to diminish the civil society of Taiwan and confidence in its governance through various ways of using strong words and coercion. So, being a fair democracy, India must be concerned about Taiwan’s future as reunification by force or war would disrupt sea lines of communication and technology supply chains by providing China with a dominant status in the first island chain to the second island chain. In the face of assertive China, it’s the appropriate time for New Delhi to engage more politically and economically with Taiwan. 


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