Taiwan’s tenacious fight for democracy and human development not only within its shores but also outside in spite of Communist China’s hostile attitude is awe inspiring. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) under the leadership of President Ms Tsai Ing-wen has been putting up a valiant resistance to China’s intimidation and threats. In January 2020, President Ms.Tsa Ingwen secured 57 per cent of popular vote in the election, humbling its rival KMT by a convincing margin.
Now it has drawn international media attention because of sabre rattling in the Taiwan Strait at the behest of China and it is lobbying to be invited to the meeting of the World Health Assembly, to be held virtually from 24th May to 1st June to which China is vehemently opposed. In the recently concluded G-7 meeting in London, the group in a statement supported Taiwan’s bid for participation in the World Health Assembly. The statement was warmly received by Taipei. President Tsai Ing-wen thanked the G-7.
Last year, six of the WHO’s 194 member states had proposed to invite Taiwan as an observer to the WHA meeting. They are Swaziland, Marshall Islands, Nicaragua, Palau, St. Lucia and Paraguay ~ all of which recognise Taiwan over China. The support for Taiwan is gaining this time. The Foreign Affairs Committee of Slovakia’s National Council passed a resolution on 11 May supporting the participation of Taiwan in the World Health Assembly. Interestingly, it may be recalled that Taiwan, with the active support of China had attended the World Health Assembly as an observer in 2009, marking its first participation in an activity of UN since its withdrawal in 1971 and continued participating in the WHA till 2016.
Then why is China opposed to Taiwan’s participation in WHA today? Well, the answer is twofold. First, in 2008 Ma Ying-jeo and Vincent C. Siew of the Kuo-min-tang (KMT), which is favourably inclined towards China, were elected as President and Vic-President of Taiwan and the pro-Beijing KMT regime continued to rule till 2016. The second reason was that when Covid-19 broke out and spread, Taiwan said that it did not get timely information from China which would have helped in taking preventive and preemptive measures.
If Taiwan’s participation in WHA didn’t violate ‘one China’ policy from 2009 to 2016, how can this principle be violated now if Taiwan is invited to participate in the Assembly? The answer is also very simple. China is not opposed to Taiwan per se being invited to the high table; China is rather opposed to the current regime in Taiwan led by the leader of DPP Ms Tsa Ing-wen because of their advocacy for “Taiwan Independence”. Why should India support Taiwan’s bid? India is poised to play a very delicate role in the WHO affairs not only because of its stature, but also because it is an important member of the WHO’s decision making process.
At a time that relations between China and Taiwan are very frosty, it is a very complex choice for India to be pitted between China, its neighbour, and a democratic country like USA which has become India’s strong strategic partner and Taiwan’s patron and protector. However, there have been certain discernible shifts in India’s overtures to Taiwan shedding inhibitions. For example, on 3 April, the Ministry of External Affairs offered India’s condolences to Taiwan over a major train accident that killed 51 people. The MEA tweeted, “we are deeply saddened by the loss of so many lives in the railway accident in Taiwan. Our deepest condolences to the families, and our prayers for the early recovery of the injured.”
The Taiwan foreign ministry thanked India in very thoughtful words “for the expression of sentiment and support and said this genuinely friendly gesture will touch the people and bring Taiwan and India closer in a real and lasting manner.” If the words are decoded, the message is loud and clear. In another very smart diplomatic move India reached out to Paraguay, one of the few countries maintaining diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and not communist China, when India sent 100,000 doses of Covaxin vaccines. Taipei expressed its gratitude for the thoughtful gesture of India. Similarly, Taiwan also sent essential medical supplies to India to help mitigate the pandemic crisis in India.
The first batch of medical supplies consisting of 50 oxygen concentrators and 500 oxygen cylinders landed in New Delhi on a Boing 747 of China Airlines, the government owned airline of Taiwan. Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Yu said that his country had bought 150 oxygen concentrators and aimed to send them to India to help to deal with the massive increase in Covid-19 cases and was also looking at providing further aid. “Taiwan’s deployment of medical supplies is a testament to the close collaboration and partnership across multiple agencies on both sides,” said a statement from Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre, Taiwan’s Representative Office in India. India’s support for Taiwan’s bid to participate in the forthcoming World Health Assembly can be defended on the following grounds.
Firstly, it does not violate ‘one China’ policy, which is not defined anywhere. Secondly, from 2009 to 2016, China itself had supported Taiwan’s observer status with the WHA. Thus China’s opposition to Taiwan’s bid for observer status in WHA is only political, and not normative. Thirdly, Taiwan is also a member of other multilateral organisations like the WTO and APEC. China has acquiesced in Taiwan’s membership in these multilateral bodies. Fourthly, as far as India is concerned if China does not care for India’s objection to China’s presence in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), why should India care for China’s objection to Taiwan’s bid for observer status in the WHA?
It may be noted in this connection that a report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs of the sixteenth Lok Sabha under the chairmanship of Dr. Shashi Tharoor had observed in December 2018 that “. It comes as a matter of concern to the Committee that even when India is overly cautious about China’s sensitivities while dealing with Taiwan and Tibet, China does not exhibit the same deference while dealing with India’s sovereignty concerns, be it in the case of Arunachal Pradesh or that of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Given the fact of China’s muscular approach of late while dealing with some of the issues pertaining to India, it is difficult for the Committee to be content with India’s continuing with its conventionally differential foreign policy towards China. Dealing with China essentially requires a flexible approach. The Committee strongly feel that the Government should contemplate using all options including its relations with Taiwan, as part of such an approach.”
(The writer is a senior fellow of Indian Council of Social Science Research at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi. The views are personal)