By Haider Abbas
The brawl between China and US, in the recent times, started afresh after the accusations against each other over the spread of COVID-19 apart from what may be called a challenge thrown to US by China over its ‘super-power’ status, and this led to US sending its three-aircraft carriers in South China Sea, reported The Japan Times on June 21, 2020 1. US efforts to browbeat China has been ‘continuing’, the latest to which was US under secretary Keith Krach to Taipei, the capital of Taiwan on September 17, 2020, reported The NewYorkTimes 2 . China’s reaction was coming. The Politico.Com informed on September 18, 2020 3, that ‘China’s military sent 18 planes including fighter jets over the Taiwan Strait’ along with two anti-submarine aircraft and through it’s The Global Times editorial on September 18, 2020 4 informed that its steps were not warnings ‘but rehearsal for Taiwan takeover’ giving a message to Washington to not to meddle in Taiwan, which China considers as its territory. Interestingly, the Chinese build-up came while the visit was on.
India is also facing a flak from China, since May 2020, in its Himalayas over border disputes and India is now very much a strong ally of US , already into military and naval drills with US in South China Sea , as came the news from NDTV on August 31, 2020 5 , is also ready to block China in straits of Malacca, in order to sever Chinese goods and exports to reach to the outside world. Now there seem to be an unending scenario building-up with China and the possibilities of war are rife. China has occupied Indian areas in Ladakh and is further looking into Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and in Uttrakhand as well. India, therefore, as a part of giving-China-its-due, is also planning to play-up the Taiwan card, particularly after US has shown open affinity with Taiwan. An article is a reputable magazine The Diplomat, on July 9, 2020 6, debated ‘India to focus on developing stronger relations with Taiwan’. In one of earlier articles ‘India Well Into The Great Game’ in CounterCurrents.Com on July 21, 2020 7 I wrote ‘India is also slowly upping the ante as it has appointed IFS Gourangalal Das, who in Delhi was tasked to set up the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies, the in-house think tank to study China post-Doklam, to Taiwan. Taiwan has reciprocated General Baushan Ger as its representative to India. India does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan owing to One-China policy, the move has made Chinese ambassador to India to remind ‘non-interference in each-others internal matters’. It may be known that ever since the latest heat (has) generated between India and China, Taiwan has supported India as Taiwan News ‘Photo of the Day’ of June 17, 2020, shows Lord Rama (India) killing the Dragon (China)’.
Chinese sensitivities towards Taiwan, had also in the past, warded-off Indian efforts to hyphenate itself with Taiwan. Ironically, it is India which has tried to inflame its relations with China as India had invited Taiwan parliamentarian delegation in 2017, reported The Times of India on February 15, 2017 8 which turned China ‘red’. ‘Two days after a parliamentary delegation from Taiwan visited India, China lodged a diplomatic protest with New Delhi asking it to act ‘prudently’. China used its state media to warn New Delhi that “playing the Taiwan card” is akin to “playing with fire.”’. Later in the next year another move which took to China’s adverse opinion, was when Air India had started to refer ‘Taiwan’ on its website, towards which China approved ‘Chinese Taipei’ to be used instead, reported The Hindustan Times on July 5, 2018 9 . During the COVID-19 pandemic Taiwan donated 1 million masks to India and wanted India to support its presence at the World Health Organisation meeting at Geneva, reported Times of India on May 10, 2020 10 against which Chinese embassy in New Delhi responded ‘as a part of China Taiwan has no right to join WHO’ and India did not go ahead with Taiwan’s request. But, on the other hand, only a few days later while during the pandemic, India’s move to irk China did not deter, as the ruling BJP party two parliamentarians, attended to the ‘virtual’ Taiwan president swearing-in ceremony Tsai Ing-Wen informed Times of India on May 26, 2020 11 which made China take an umbrage and ask India ‘not to interfere in its internal matters’. The meeting was attended by US secretary of state Mike Pompeo along with ’92 dignitaries of 41 countries’
In views of all such overtures from India in the recent past, an very eye-opening article has come through South China Morning Post on September 20, 2020 12 which probes at length as to ‘ Who’s playing the Taiwan card in India-China tensions, Modi or the RSS?’ As such, ‘groups tasked with advancing a Hindu nationalist agenda in Taiwan could pose trouble for the already-tense India-China relationship Right-wing Hindu organisations linked to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and registered as religious groups in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, where an estimated 50,000 Indians work and study, are unofficially calling for greater engagement with Taipei – something that is likely to anger Beijing. The stance of the groups – which are linked to the BJP’s ideological parent the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS – could add to pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “play the Taiwan card” in India’s increasingly acrimonious relationship with Beijing.’
The article throws light to inform that ‘among the Indian groups working in tandem on the island are the RSS’s overseas arm the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP) and the Vishva Hindu Parishad or VHP, the last of which officially registered as a religious-cultural NGO in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Collectively, they are known as the Sangh Parivar, or the RSS Family. VHP Taiwan, for example, is headed by BJP member Nari Phulwani, a businessman originally from Rajasthan. However, ‘increasingly the VHP and other groups have shown signs of expanding their influence into more overtly political matters. In this vein some members, citing personal and economic reasons, are now indirectly calling for New Delhi to alter its position on the one-China policy and foster formal ties recognising Taiwan as a sovereign state’. It is obviously all ‘unlikely to go down well in Beijing, which fiercely opposes all references to Taiwan as a “country”. While the island has been self-governing since Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang government fled there at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, Beijing views Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary’. But, RSS efforts on Taiwan had been continuing as ‘Taiwan as an issue (has been ) appearing more in the RSS discourse but not in the official statements. Maybe they (RSS) don’t want to put India’s policymakers in trouble and leave the BJP government red-faced.”’ With RSS throwing the shots for Taiwan, is likely to be placed by BJP too as RSS is what is considered to be the mentor of the ruling-BJP and it is only a matter of time that BJP too would join the RSS bandwagon.
India and China are in a volatile state, and if India goes ahead with any official declaration, at the behest of US, then China might retaliate with more force against India as it had recently displayed to US when it fired two aircraft-killer-missiles in South China Sea on according to SCMP on August 26, 2020 13 , aimed at sending a clear warning to US which had made its U-2 spy place enter into no-fly zone ‘without permission during Chinese live-fire naval’, and which made US to an extent to cool its heels. Perhaps, the last straw which hinges in Indo-China relations is India-Taiwan hyphenation, then the possibilities of a two-front war against India by China and China supported Pakistan will become more grave.
India however right now tends to walk the tightrope over Taiwan even when Taiwan president had recently sent her birthday-wishes to PM Modi on her twitter on September 18, 2020, in order to provoke China.
The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner. He writes on international politics.