Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Taiwan between giants


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Taiwan issue


The US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan evoking strong protest from China.

Brief history of China-Taiwan Tensions

  • Taiwan is an island about 160 km off the coast of southeastern China, opposite the Chinese cities of Fuzhou, Quanzhou, and Xiamen.
  • It was administered by the imperial Qing dynasty, but its control passed to the Japanese in 1895.
  • After the defeat of Japan in World War II, the island passed back into Chinese hands.
  • After the communists led by Mao Zedong won the civil war in mainland China, Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the nationalist Kuomintang party, fled to Taiwan in 1949.
  • Chiang Kai-shek set up the government of the Republic of China on the island, and remained President until 1975.
  • Beijing has never recognised the existence of Taiwan as an independent political entity, arguing that it was always a Chinese province.

The US and One-China Principle

  • With the shifting geopolitics of the Cold War, the PRC and the U.S. were forced to come together in the 1970s to counter the growing influence of the USSR.
  • This led to the US-China rapprochement demonstrated by the historic visit of then US President Richard Nixon to PRC in 1972.
  • The same year, the PRC displaced ROC as the official representative of the Chinese nation at the UN.
  • Diplomatic relations with the PRC became possible only if countries abided by its “One China Principle” — recognizing PRC and not the ROC as China.

Why does China have a problem with Pelosi visiting Taiwan?

  • For China, the presence of a senior American figure in Taiwan would indicate some kind of US support for Taiwan’s independence.
  • This move severely undermined China’s perception of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

China’s reaction

  • Increased military exercises around Taiwa : Military exercises around Taiwan have been expanded, with Chinese aircraft intruding more frequently across the informal median line which defines the zone of operations on each side.
  • Increased naval presence: Chinese naval ships are cruising within the Taiwan Straits and around the island itself.
  • Economic sanctions have been announced, prohibiting imports of a whole range of foodstuffs from Taiwan.
  • One item which will be left out is semi-conductors, a critical import for a range of Chinese high-tech industries.
  • Taiwanese firms like the Taiwan Semi-Conductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) are world leaders in the most sophisticated brands of chips imported by a large number of countries.
  •  The main target of China’s escalating response will be Taiwan.
  • Taiwan is indeed caught in the crossfire between China and the US and being a proxy in a fight between giants.

Implications for East Asia and South East Asia

  • Forced into making a choice: Just as Taiwan is caught in a crossfire between the US and China, so are the East Asian and South East Asian countries.
  • Prefer US military presence: They feel reassured by the considerable US military presence deployed in the region and tacitly support its Indo-Pacific strategy.
  • Strong economic ties with China: However, their economic and commercial interests are bound ever tighter with the large and growing Chinese economy.
  • This having it both ways strategy is beginning to fray at the edges with the escalating tensions between the US and China.
  • Most do not wish to be forced into making a choice.

What should be India’s approach?

  • Advantageous for India: In one sense, China’s preoccupation with its eastern ocean flank of the Yellow Sea, the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea is good for India.
  • It diminishes Chinese attention toward the Indian Ocean, India’s primary security theatre.
  • Adhere to One China Policy: Prudence demands that India hew closely to its consistent one China policy even while maintaining and even expanding non-official relations with Taiwan.
  • For the US, Japan and Australia, members of the Quad, Taiwan is a key component of the Indo-Pacific strategy.
  • It is not for India.


One should use the opportunity to expand India’s naval capabilities and maritime profile in this theatre before the Chinese begin to look to our extended neighbourhood with renewed interest and energy.

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