New Delhi: Two BJP MPs — Meenakshi Lekhi and Rahul Kaswan — virtually attended the swearing-in ceremony of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and even sent her congratulatory messages, in a departure from the Modi government’s position on the country that China claims is its territory.
Tsai was sworn in for her second term on Wednesday and Lekhi and Kaswan were among the 92 dignitaries from 41 countries who had a virtual presence at the ceremony as foreign visitors continue to be banned in Taiwan given the Covid-19 pandemic.
Back in 2016, when Tsai was elected to her first term, after initial consideration, the Modi government had decided against sending its MPs to Taiwan for the inaugural ceremony.
This time around, the BJP MPs were also joined by Sohang Sen, the acting director general of India-Taipei Association, who represented India at the ceremony in Taipei. India does not have an official diplomatic establishment in Taiwan, much like 179 of the 194 United Nations members.
While they did not single out the Indian MPs, Chinese authorities slammed the congratulatory messages that foreign dignitaries sent to Tsai.
“We hope and believe that … [they will] understand and support the just cause of Chinese people to oppose the secessionist activities for ‘Taiwan independence’ and realise national reunification,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing.
ThePrint reached out to both Lekhi and Kaswan through phone and text messages, but they did not respond to questions. Vijay Chauthaiwale, the head of the BJP’s Foreign Affairs cell, said he would not like to comment on the matter.
‘India and Taiwan shared democratic values’
In their message, Lekhi and Kaswan stressed on India and Taiwan’s shared belief in democratic values.
“Both India and Taiwan are democratic countries, bonded by shared values of freedom, democracy and respect for human rights. Over the past years, India and Taiwan have enhanced bilateral relations enormously in wide-ranging areas, especially trade, investment and people to people exchanges,” said the two MPs during their video message.
In addition to this joint message, Lekhi also sent a separate congratulatory message to Tsai, which was also played at the ceremony.
In it, Lekhi congratulated Tsai and wished her “great success”. The message also talked about “continued strengthening of the comprehensive relations between India and Taiwan”.
Evolution of India’s ties with Taiwan
Taiwan was formed in 1949, after the Kuomintang (the Chinese Nationalist Party) leadership fled Mainland China after the revolutionary civil war, and established an independent state. Since then, Taiwan has resisted Chinese calls for unification, and maintained its status of self-rule, often under extreme pressure from Beijing.
Given Beijing’s insistence on the international community adhering to the “One China” policy, most countries have not established official diplomatic ties with Taipei even though, most major powers from Japan and South Korea in the East to the UK and US in the West, have continued to maintain strong business, cultural, and even security ties with Taiwan.
Though India does not have an official mission in Taipei, the relations between the two countries have continued to steadily grow over the past two decades. India has diplomatic presence in Taiwan through a representative office, India-Taipei Association. In turn, Taiwan’s External Trade Development Council had set up four new offices in India — in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai — in 2018.
India’s former national security advisor, Shivshankar Menon, recently said during a webinar that he does not expect India’s declaratory policy with respect to Taiwan to change anytime soon. “But the relationship itself has changed substantially in the last 20-30 years. Taiwan is an important economic and tech partner,” Menon said.
Growing trade relationship
India-Taiwan bilateral trade has grown from $1 billion in 2000 to $7.5 billion in 2019. Taiwanese investments in India have also grown 12 times between 2016 and 2018, and stood at $360 million in 2018. Roughly 2,300 Indian students are also enrolled in Taiwanese colleges and universities at the moment.
Taiwan’s successful response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the backlash against China for its initial handling of the outbreak has helped Taipei gain the support of many major powers.
“A consensus is also emerging in the international community that Taiwan should be given access to the WHO and other multilateral agencies, even as China’s opposition grows louder,” writes Harsh Pant and Premesha Saha of Observer Research Foundation.