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Recognition of Taiwan

Context: Honduras has recently established formal diplomatic relations with China, joining a growing list of countries that have switched recognition from Taiwan to Beijing.

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  • While China claims that Honduras made a choice to stand on the right side of history by making this switch, Taiwan has accused Honduras of seeking financial assistance as a precondition to continue relations, implying that the decision was influenced by economic incentives.
  • As a result, Taiwan now only has diplomatic ties with 12 countries (excluding the Vatican), including four small Pacific island nations, Eswatini, Paraguay, and six central American and Caribbean nations.
  • Beijing believes that the ruling party in Taiwan, with support from the United States, is pursuing de facto independence, while Taipei accuses Beijing of exerting diplomatic pressure and military muscle-flexing to isolate Taiwan.
  • Going further, Taiwan has also criticized China for persistently using any means to suppress Taiwan’s international participation, and disrupt regional peace.
  • This is expected to alter the status quo between the two nations across the Taiwan Strait.

China- Taiwan Relations

  • The rivalry between China and Taiwan began in 1949, when the Chinese Civil War ended with the victory of the Communist Party of China (CPC) over the Nationalist Party (KMT).
  • The KMT, led by Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan and established the Republic of China (ROC) as a separate government. Meanwhile, the CPC established the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland.
  • Both the PRC and the ROC claimed to be the legitimate government of China, leading to a rivalry that has lasted until today.
    • The PRC maintains that Taiwan is a part of China and has not ruled out the use of force to reunify the island with the mainland, while Taiwan, on the other hand, has developed into a vibrant democracy and has resisted Beijing’s attempts at reunification.
  • Despite this, there have been some limited exchanges and cooperation between China and Taiwan over the years, particularly in economic and cultural areas.
China- Taiwan Relations
China- Taiwan Relations

Taiwan: Location and Strategic Importance

Geographical Location:

  • Taiwan (earlier known as Formosa) is an island located off the south-eastern coast of China, across the Taiwan Strait.
  • The island is located in the East China Sea, to the northeast of Hong Kong, north of the Philippines and south of South Korea, and southwest of Japan.
  • It is officially known as the Republic of China (ROC) and has its own government, military, and economy. The capital city is Taipei.

Strategic Importance:

  • As an island situated close to China, Taiwan serves as a natural buffer zone and a strategic gateway to the Pacific Ocean for China.
  • In addition, Taiwan is located at the intersection of major sea routes and is an important hub for regional trade and commerce.
  • Taiwan’s economic development has also played a significant role in its strategic importance.
    • Taiwan is a major producer of high-tech products such as semiconductors and electronic components, and its economy is closely integrated with those of other countries in the region.
    • As such, any disruption to Taiwan’s economy could have ripple effects throughout the global supply chain.
  • Taiwan’s position as a democratic state and its relationship with the United States add another layer of complexity to the island’s strategic importance.
    • The U.S. has historically been a major ally and supporter of Taiwan, and any changes in the relationship between the two could have significant implications for regional stability and security.

Global Recognition:

  • Taiwan now only has diplomatic ties with 12 countries (excluding the Vatican), including four small Pacific island nations, Eswatini, Paraguay, and six central American and Caribbean nations.
  • However, many countries maintain unofficial relations with Taiwan.
  • Taiwan is also an active member of many international organizations under the name “Chinese Taipei”, including the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, and the International Olympic Committee.

India-Taiwan Relations

  • India follows the One-China policy and does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
  • The Ties between both nations in areas of:
    • Bilateral relations: The bilateral relations between India and Taiwan have improved since the 1990s, despite both nations not maintaining official diplomatic relations.
    • Commercial ties: Both governments have launched efforts to significantly expand bilateral trade and investment, especially in the fields of information technology (IT), energy, telecommunications and electronics.
    • Cultural exchanges: Buddhism is the most widely practiced religion in Taiwan, usually alongside elements of Daoism, and Bollywood films have in recent years gained a reasonably popular following, along with other aspects of Indian culture such as yoga, cuisine and Indian dance.
    • Trade: Taiwan’s relations with India have increased in breadth spanning trade, research and academia, as well as depth trade ties, which amounted to $7.5 billion in 2019, up from $1 billion in 2000.
    • Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in India (TECC)
  • India maintains an office in Taipei for diplomatic functions, and the India-Taipei Association (ITA) is headed by a senior diplomat.
  • Similarly, Taiwan has the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center (TECC) in New Delhi which oversees the collaboration on different fronts like education, tourism, culture, the media, and economic development.
  • Both were established in 1995.
    • Free trade Agreement: India has suggested the possibility of a free trade agreement with Taiwan although this decision is not without precedent as Taiwan maintains economic cooperation agreements (ECAs) with New Zealand and Singapore, both unofficial relationships.

‘One China’ Principle

  • The principle affirms Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan and is the cornerstone of bilateral diplomatic relations between the US and China.
  • Any country that wants to establish political and diplomatic relations with China must agree to adhere to this principle and not recognise Taiwan as an independent country.
  • In practice, the ‘One China’ principle is a stabilisation mechanism that preserves the status quo over Taiwan’s political status while allowing it to function as an independent economic, civic and administrative entity.
  • Since 1979, Taiwan had to negotiate its ‘international living space’ (refers to the degree to which Taiwan is able to participate in international organizations and events, and conduct official diplomatic relations with other countries) but it has largely honoured the ‘One China’ principle.

Implications for India

The conflict between China and Taiwan has several implications for India like:

  • Impact on India-China Relations: India’s relations with China are already strained due to issues, including the border dispute, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh. The conflict between China and Taiwan may further impact India-China relations.
  • Economic Implications: China is India’s largest trading partner, and any escalation of conflict between China and Taiwan may impact India’s economy. If the conflict results in an increase in oil prices, it could have a significant impact on India’s economy, which imports around 80% of its crude oil requirements.
  • Strategic Implications: Taiwan is strategically located in the South China Sea, and any conflict there may have implications for India’s security interests in the region.
  • Impact on Taiwan-India Relations: Taiwan has been seeking greater engagement with India in areas such as trade, investment, and tourism. However, India’s adherence to the One-China policy has limited the scope for bilateral engagement between the two countries. The conflict between China and Taiwan may further restrict India’s engagement with Taiwan.
  • Diplomatic Implications: The conflict between China and Taiwan may also impact India’s relations with other countries in the region. India has been strengthening its ties with countries such as Japan, Australia, and the US to counter China’s growing influence in the region. The conflict with Taiwan may further complicate India’s diplomatic efforts in the region.

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