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E- visas have been granted for Chinese visitors. It is regrettable that this concession was not simultaneously extended to citizens of Taiwan. In fact, extending it to Taiwan would be a better bet if the benefits are examined dispassionately. Compared to China, Taiwan is a very small country. Yet 11 million Taiwanese go out as tourists every year, a large number from the well-off class. Naturally those travelling include business interests. India receives only about thirty thousand of this number. Further, while Mr. Xi Jinping has promised to invest $ 20 billion in India, the prospect of it materialising soon or materialising in industries that would give India a competitive edge are remoter than remote; whereas, in the case of Taiwan, opening up to the country would lead to an investment of the amount that the Chinese president mentioned in as little as five years, if not earlier. More importantly, the investment would be in high-end electronics, an area where India lags behind.
     For years India's Taiwan policy has been hostage to the government of India's self-imposed diffidence on account of China's sensibilities, whether actually expressed in so many words or assumed by Indian diplomats and the concerned ministries. Several years ago a very high ranking economist of the country holding an important post, while making a speech at an international economic forum in New Delhi, when referring to Taiwan gratuitously chose to refer to it as "Taiwan, province of China", to use his own words. To say the least many of the listeners were aghast, the high dignitary remained unfazed. The incident shows the psychological self-conditioning among civil servants and diplomats, not to mention politicians where China is concerned. Had India opened up to Taiwan, while not in any way changing the official policy on Taiwan and made even minimal efforts to give space to Taiwanese electronics giants, India would have been in a different league by now in electronics manufacturing in India. The decision-makers in the government did not realise or did not notice, due to blinkered vision, that China was benefiting handsomely from the Tiger economies of East Asia, of course including Singapore, investing in high-end technology in China. The Western multinationals that have underpinned China's gigantic high-tech manufacturing output made their investments in large numbers mainly after China's accession to the WTO regime at the beginning of this century. India, meanwhile was not only marking time in its abysmal manufacturing backwardness, but actually regressing due to lack of infrastructure and crippling bureaucratic controls and delays in sanctions. The situation has not improved yet to the extent required even after the liberalisation introduced during the Narasimha Rao government and the more recent push towards "make in India" after the victory of Modi-led BJP government. Hopefully GST and other essential bills stalled in parliament will be quickly passed to ensure that India does not lag behind while competitors in and around India, competing for external investment, gallop ahead. The opposition continues to be steeped in the mindset of earlier periods with India's losses piling up, or the danger of even missing the bus.
    Reverting to Taiwan, the government policy towards that Tiger economy should take a quantum leap in openness and in welcoming Taiwanese investments. Exploratory talks from that country's businesses can be speeded up by putting their investments through single-window clearance as in the case of Japan. India should realise that, in its turn, China still plays cat-and-mouse games with regard to stapled visas, claims on Arunachal Pradesh as well as rapid militarisation and nuclearisation of Pakistan. To cater to Chinese sensibilities that need not be entirely thrown out of the window, the bottom line remains that India will not upgrade its ties with Taiwan to ambassadorial level. Short of that, India should feel free to take its own decisions towards free movement of tourists and opening its shores to Taiwanese investments on sounder footing - the term war-footing is eschewed as it might give a wrong impression, although the connotation is totally different while dealing with the type of changes that must be brought about in India's policy towards Taiwan to make up for lost opportunities. In a similar situation, brushing aside Chinese remonstrations Singapore's prime minister, having learned the art of governance at the feet of his illustrious father, the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, went public with his statement that as the prime minister of an independent, sovereign country, he could not allow any diminution in his country's sovereign right to make independent (foreign) policy decisions on account of external pressures, or words to that effect. Where does India stand in this regard in mid-2015?
Vinod Saighal
International affairs analyst.
New Delhi, July 31, 2015.
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