Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Lessons for India from the Taiwan standoff

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Lessons for India in China-Taiwan crisis

Context

The brief visit by the United States House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to Taiwan, against stern warnings issued by China, has the potential to increase the already deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and China. For those of us in India watching the events as they unfold around Taiwan, there are valuable lessons to be learnt.

Background

  • The crisis that began with the visit of Ms. Pelosi to Taipei is still unfolding and there is little clarity today on how it will wind down.
  •  For China, its claims about a rising superpower might ring hollow if it is unable to unify its claimed territories, in particular Taiwan.
  • For the U.S., it is about re-establishing steadily-diminishing American credibility in the eyes of its friends and foes.
  • For Taiwan, it is about standing up to Chinese bullying and making its red lines clear to Beijing.
  • Lessons for India: To be fair, there is growing recognition in New Delhi that it is important to meet the challenge posed by a belligerent China, but there appears to be a lack of clarity on how to meet this challenge.
  • To that extent, the Taiwan crisis offers New Delhi three lessons, at the very least.

Takeaways for India

1] Articulate red lines

  • The most important lesson from the Taiwan standoff for policymakers in New Delhi is the importance of articulating red lines and sovereign positions in an unambiguous manner.
  •  New Delhi needs to unambiguously highlight the threat from China and the sources of such a threat.
  • Any absence of such clarity will be cleverly utilised by Beijing to push Indian limits, as we have already seen.
  • Stop confusing international community: Even worse, ambiguous messaging by India also confuses its friends in the international community.
  • If India does not clearly articulate that China is in illegal occupation of its territory, how can it expect its friends in the international community to support India diplomatically or otherwise?
  • In other words, India’s current policy amounts to poor messaging, and confusing to its own people as well as the larger international community, and is therefore counterproductive.

2] Avoid appeasement

  • Taiwan could have avoided the ongoing confrontation and the economic blockade during Chinese retaliatory military exercises around its territory by avoiding Ms. Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, or perhaps even keeping it low key.
  • Appeasement of China, Taiwan knows, is not the answer to Beijing’s aggression.
  •  India’s policy of meeting/hosting Chinese leaders while the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) continue(d) to violate established territorial norms on the LAC is a deeply flawed one.
  • Unilaterally catering to Chinese sensitivities even during the standoffs between the two militaries is a mistake.
  • For instance, the parliamentary delegation visits and legislature-level dialogues between India and Taiwan have not taken place since 2017.
  • Soft-peddling of the Quad was a mistake: During the 2000s, India (as well as Australia) decided to soft-peddle the Quad in the face of strong Chinese objections.
  • It is only in the last two years or so that we have witnessed renewed enthusiasm around the Quad.
  • In retrospect, appeasing Beijing by almost abandoning the Quad was bad strategy.

3] Economic relationship is a two way process

  • Given that the economic relationship is a two-way process and that, as a matter of fact, the trade deficit is in China’s favour, China too has a lot to lose from a damaged trade relationship with India.
  • More so, if the Taiwan example (as well as the India-China standoff in 2020) is anything to go by, trade can continue to take place despite tensions and without India making any compromises vis-à-vis its sovereign claims.
  • India for sure should do business with China, but not on China’s own terms.

Conclusion

The recent crisis offers valuable lessons for India in its dealing with China.

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