Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Dec 14, 2016
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s phone call to President-Elect Donald Trump last week triggered uproar in foreign policy circles of China, US & beyond
Trump's Taiwan rethink and India Taiwan’s first woman President, Tsai Ing-wen’s phone call to US President-Elect Donald Trump last week has triggered a huge uproar in the foreign policy circles of China, United States and beyond. Although Tsai has described the congratulatory call as a mere international etiquette, there’s much more to it than meets the eye. The 10 minute telephonic conversation has raised eyebrows of foreign policy analysts due to a number of reasons. To begin with, Mr. Trump has annulled the 40 year old diplomatic protocol, and has become the first US President since 1979 to speak with the president of Republic of China (ROC).  The year 1979 was significant as it marked US’ recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the only legitimate government of China. Second, the issue of cross-strait relations has three dimensions to it. While the US has expressed its official commitment to the ‘One China’ policy, PRC considers Taiwan as a renegade province, President Tsai refuses to recognise the concept of ‘One China’. Last week, while affirming this unprecedented phone call from Tsai, President Trump took to twitter and referred to her as the ‘President of Taiwan’. The usage of the term Taiwan instead of Republic of China, denotes that the incumbent US administration would prefer to view Taiwan as a separate entity and push for the country’s national sovereignty. Third, regardless of whether the phone call was premeditated or not, this incident will undoubtedly leave a Chinese inkling on Trump’s strategic intentions. To add to it, President Trump’s recent interview to Fox News Sunday, where he has questioned the privileged position offered to the PRC by Washington’s adherence to the ‘One China’ policy and slammed China for issues such as currency devaluation, PRC’s stance in the South China Sea and towards North Korea could further flare up Sino-US tensions over Taiwan. Fourth, the recent incident is a clear hint at the hardline strategy that will be adopted by the Trump administration towards China. Although the US officially appreciates China’s ‘peaceful rise’, fresh strains in the relationship caused by maritime disputes, cyber espionage and institutions established by the PRC that challenge the Western module of economic governance, have repeatedly brought these dominant powers against each other.  Considering the conservative orientation of Trump and his Republican followers, it is inferable that the new administration would not be as accommodative of China as the liberal democrats were under the Obama administration.  This was fairly evident during Trump’s election campaign when he accused China of being the “the single greatest currency manipulator that’s ever been on this planet”. President Tsai, on her part, had orchestrated the phone call to Donald Trump to bring Taiwan back on the table.  In July 2016, Taiwan had ‘mistakenly’ launched a supersonic anti-ship missile towards China.  Such sequence of events clearly demonstrates that ROC under Tsai Ing-wen is taking a tough stance in dealing with cross-strait relations. Trump too, is playing the Taiwan card to send a strong signal to the Chinese leadership. It is interesting to note that this evolving strategic synergy between the US and Taiwan have definite implications for India. Both India and the US are committed to the ‘One China’ policy and China is a common traditional security threat to all the three powers. Since the 1960s, the ‘China factor’ has loomed large in India’s foreign policy owing to an unsettled border, Beijing’s endorsement of Pakistan on issues relating to terrorism and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), China’s move to block India’s bid to secure membership in the NSG, China’s rising footprint in the Indian Ocean Region, and (most importantly) Beijing’s escalating military ties with the nations of South Asia. However, Trump’s unpredictable stance of engaging with Taiwan over a telephonic conversation has laid the roadmap for India to undertake a hardline strategy towards China, with the US support. Second, although Taiwan recognises India as an important constituent of its ‘Go South’ policy, ROC does not feature prominently in India’s Act East policy. India can further embolden its Act East Policy by considering Taiwan as an important partner in Southeast Asia. Trump administration’s robust stand in favour of Taiwan vis-à-vis China hints at an evolving regional architecture, which India and Taiwan must capitalise to bolster their respective positions in the region. Third, with Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen’s ‘new southward policy’ in place, India must make efforts to exploit the potential of its economic ties with Taiwan. In 2014, trade between the two countries stood at US$6 billion – a figure much below the actual potential.  The Indian government must display greater pragmatism in responding to Taiwan’s ‘Go South’ policy in order to maximise the opportunity and promote governmental programs such as the Make in India initiative. With the recalibration of strategic engagements amongst international players alongside an ongoing Sino-US power transition, the regional order at present seems to be in a state of flux,. Indeed it will be interesting to observe the manner in which India capitalises on this opportunity to maximize its position at the global stage.
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