Gateway House: The first female president-elect of Taiwan. How do you see this impacting its relations with China, which were coming back on track?
Madhav Nalapat: The acceptance of Dr. Tsai Ing-wen by all groups of Taiwanese indicates Taiwan has become a highly evolved, liberal society. As far as China is concerned, it is, of course, a complex situation.
A few months ago, we had the first-ever meeting between a Chinese president and Taiwanese president, and things looked rosy.
As the Kuomintang of China (KMT) were undefeated by the People’s Liberation Army, or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1949, and merely retreated to Taiwan, the Taiwanese regard it equal in status to the CCP. The only workable solution, I believe, is “one nation” — one Chinese nation — “but two separate Chinese states”: the communist state headquartered in Beijing, and the democratic state in Taipei, and both, part of the great Chinese republic.
Is it that the youth of Taiwan want independent identity? There was the feeling that Taiwan did not want separate status as the government had been trying to better ties with China with all the economic and trade agreements it was signing, yet we saw this massive rally in 2014, supported by the youth of Taiwan against the trade pact, and now, one-and-a-half years later, we have the outcome of the recent elections…
Taiwanese are not really rejecting the fact they belong to China, but that Beijing tries to control them. KMT went wrong in acting subordinate to communist China.
China Daily warns of China-Taiwan relations getting strained because of Tsai’s victory. So, the Chinese are not taking this well?
China Daily has been right on some things and wrong on many others, as in its assessment of Dr. Tsai: She is not going to make provocative moves towards the mainland like former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian did, and it is a mistake for people in Beijing to regard her as a new version of him. Unfortunately, CCP leaders had little contact with her, and the China Daily article you refer to is likewise ignorant.
Dr. Tsai would like to see Taiwan develop on its own track, but knows good relations with the mainland are vital for that, and I doubt she would do anything to destabilize (OR destabilize) those. It is not a track that is hostile to China.
Tell us about the time, in 2012, when you brought Dr. Tsai to Gateway House and India.
Well, Dr. Tsai is a liberal democrat who likes to be close to the people. So, we deliberately kept her visit low key in terms of pomp and luxury, letting her walk around Bombay, travel by train, stay in a four-star hotel… I think the people of Taiwan have chosen wisely, and chosen well, and I say this despite my regarding outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou a superb leader and good friend.
We have seen Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy reset in the past twenty months to with countries not given due consideration in the past few years. Although India and Taiwan do not have a working relationship at the moment, will Dr. Tsai as president change that?
The potential for India-Taiwan cooperation is immense, but our bureaucracy has to give up its paralysing fear of China. We should engage vigorously with the new government in Taiwan, on the same level as Southeast or East Asia does with Taiwan. Unfortunately, the Indian bureaucracy is not very courageous when it comes to taking the initiative.
I would like Dr. Tsai to visit India again. Her first visit to us was delayed for a long time as our bureaucracy was so terrified of China, they did not want her to come. Yet the Chinese are pragmatic and reasonable people; they may say something, but realise they have to cut some slack. India is too big to be ignored by any power, and we have a bilateral treaty.
As long as it does not go against the central interest of any power, we should act as we deem fit, in our best interest. There is a good strong score for really vigorous engagement with Taiwan, and I am really hopeful that, in the three-and-a-half years remaining of Prime Minister Modi’s full term, coupled with Dr. Tsai’s presidential four-year term, both of them will ensure a truly strong relationship between New Delhi and Taipei.
Professor Madhav Nalapat, holds a UNESCO Peace Chair and is a senior associate of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, India. He is also a board member of the India-China-America Institute, and an Associate of the United Services Institution of India.
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