Rupa Debroy, Delhi/ Wang Xiaofeng Beijing , Easternlink
The Modi government may have ended up upsetting Beijing this week amid a flurry of furious diplomatic exchanges.
On a day when the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) rubbished Chinese allegations about aggressive cross-border patrolling by Indian troops , two BJP MPs — Meenakshi Lekhi and Rahul Kaswan — virtually participated in the swearing-in ceremony of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen by joining it online.
Tsai has asserted her country’s independence and ruled out joining People’s Republic of China on the basis of ‘one country , two systems’ principle used to incorporate the former British colony of Hong Kong.
Lekhi and Kaswan even sent her congratulatory messages to Tsai o her resounding electoral victory , in a departure from the Modi government’s position on the country that China claims is its territory.
Tsai was sworn in for her second term on Wednesday and Lekhi and Kaswan were among the 92 dignitaries from 41 countries who had a virtual presence at the ceremony as foreign visitors continue to be banned in Taiwan given the Covid-19 pandemic.
Back in 2016, when Tsai was elected for the first time , the Modi government had decided against sending its MPs to Taiwan for the swraring-in ceremony.
During Modi’s own first time swearing in ceremony in 2014, the Indian prime minister upset China by inviting the Tibetan exile government PM. But Taiwanese diplomats were not invited even at that time.
This time around, the BJP MPs were also joined by Sohang Sen, the acting director general of India-Taipei Association, who represented India at the ceremony in Taipei.
India does not have an official diplomatic establishment in Taiwan, much like 179 of the 194 United Nations members.
While they did not single out the Indian MPs, Chinese authorities slammed the congratulatory messages that foreign dignitaries sent to Tsai.
“We hope and believe that … [they will] understand and support the just cause of Chinese people to oppose the secessionist activities for ‘Taiwan independence’ and realise national reunification,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing.
Lekhi and Kaswan did not respond to questions, but Vijay Chauthaiwale, the head of the BJP’s Foreign Affairs cell, said he would not like to comment on the matter.
In their message, Lekhi and Kaswan stressed on India and Taiwan’s shared belief in democratic values, again something sure to prick Beijing.
“Both India and Taiwan are democratic countries, bonded by shared values of freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.
Over the past years, India and Taiwan have enhanced bilateral relations enormously in wide-ranging areas, especially trade, investment and people to people exchanges,” said the two MPs during their video message.
In addition to this joint message, Lekhi , a tough and high-profile BJP spokesperson , also sent a separate congratulatory message to Tsai, which was also played at the ceremony.
In it, Lekhi congratulated Tsai and wished her “great success”. The message also talked about “continued strengthening of the comprehensive relations between India and Taiwan”.
The Indian government on Thursday (21 May) denied China’s claims that India is carrying out any activity in violation of the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh and Sikkim.
“Any suggestion that Indian troops had undertaken activity across the LAC in the Western Sector or the Sikkim sector is not accurate,” the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, Anurag Srivastava told media during a virtual press briefing. I was also in the briefing .
All Indian activities, he said, “are entirely on the Indian side of the LAC. In fact, it is Chinese side that has recently undertaken activity hindering India’s normal patrolling patterns”.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has erected a sizeable number of tents in the Galwan Valley of the Union Territory of Ladakh – an area over which India is sensitive about since the showdown in the 1962 war.
In the first week of May, 250 Indian and Chinese soldiers clashed with iron rods, sticks, and even resorted to stone-pelting in the Pangong Tso lake area.
In the second week of May, around 150 soldiers of both sides had a face-off near Naku La Pass in Sikkim. In both the incidents, soldiers sustained injuries.
Both India and China have now deployed addition troops both in tense areas of Galwan valley, Pangong Tso lake and several areas in northern Sikkim.
The spokesperson said that Indian troops are fully familiar with the alignment of the Line of Actual Control in the India-China border areas and abide by it scrupulously.
“The Indian side has always taken a very responsible approach towards border management, Srivastava said adding that the government at the same time, is deeply committed to ensuring India’s sovereignty and security,” said MEA spokesperson Srivastava.
The Indian troops strictly follow the procedures laid down in various bilateral agreements and protocols to resolve any situations which may arise due to difference in the perception of the LAC, he said.
The spokesperson said India and China have established mechanisms to resolve such situations peacefully through dialogue. Both sides remain engaged with each other to address any immediate issues, he added.
Recalling that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping, in their meeting at Chennai last year, had agreed to resolve such issues through dialogue, the spokesperson said Indian side remains firmly committed to work for the common objective of maintenance of peace and tranquillity in border areas.
“This is an essential prerequisite to the further development of Indian-China bilateral relations,” he said.
Analysts say India’s cosying up to China may actually be driven more by economic and intelligence consiserations than by political ones or those related to the disputed boundary.
India is desperately trying to attract foreign companies, specially Japanese, Taiwanese and South Koreans , who are leaving China.
” If we get the Taiwanese big cos to India, it will be a big deal, ” said IT businessman Subhankar Aich.
“As India goes digital post Covid, our business grows but we need quality India manufactured computer hardware to bring down costs, without having to import from China.That’s where Taiwan is crucial, they are one of the few who can make sense to Modi’s ‘Make in India’ in high-tech niche industries,” said Aich, owner of the medium-size Hue Services.
But some Chinese analysts suspect India may be upping the ante in tandem with US and its allies to corner China.
” We can handle our disputes with India and be good neighbours despite a history of differences. But if India is doing something against us at the behest of its strategic partner US, China will have to take the threat seriously . This Taiwan and Tibet irritants fall in that zone,” said Chen Lijun who heads the South Asia research unit in the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences.
The Modi government , in its first term, even put together a not-so-secret conclave of anti-China Uighurs, Tibetans, Falungongs and ‘Tiananmein generation’ , upsetting China.
But after the Doklam 73-day faceoff , the Jaishanker-Gokhale combine in Indian Foreign Setvice steered Delhi towatds a more conciliatory Beijing policy .
” Pricking the Chinese does not help, unless you gain from it and can handle it. We cannot deal with China with an adhocist mindset,” said Chiba-watcher Binoda Mishra of Calcutta-based thinktank CSIRD which has promoted Track 2 diplomacy with China.
India has considerable intelligence cooperation with Taiwan, one of our main source of critical strategic intelligence on China.