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Alternative reflection on the new southbound policy: Can India become the third place for cross-strait cooperation?

2018-12-28 18:30:00

Stree scene in Dehli, India (Source Wikimedia Commons)

Stree scene in Dehli, India (Source Wikimedia Commons)

On November 30 this year (2018), at the G20 Buenos Aires summit in Argentina, two important three-nation summit dialogues appeared. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held the first US-India-Japan summit dialogue in history. On the same day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jin-ping and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a China-India-Russian summit dialogue for the first time in 12 years. While the US-Russia relations continue to be tight, the China-US trade war is intensifying, and the international situation is rapidly changing, the two summit dialogues of the three countries not only reflect the real development of the Indo-Pacific region, but also highlight India's importance in the world stage. Today's India is not a poor country and need to rely on the grace of other countries. Instead, India can makes the most savvy and realistic consideration among many options. The United States, China, Japan, and Russia are all aware of this. On the occasion of Taiwan’s two-year promoting the new southbound policy, Taiwan should also have this awareness.

"India has become an international "Common Factor"". Indian media and commentary analysis is certainly difficult to hide the excitement of India's international status. Rapid economic growth, huge market potential, demographic dividends and also important geographic locations have combined and make India to have ability to compete in major power competitions, and are expected to play a role of reconciling and promoting cooperation between countries. India’s primary and only goal is the economic growth, which requires a stable domestic and international situation as a backing.

In the keynote speech of the Shangri-La Dialogue issued by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Singapore in June this year, he explained in detail about perspective on the “Indo-Pacific” region that it is inclusive with South Asia and Indian Ocean and if combined with ASEAN, India can be also the core center of the region and, regional peace and stability as the main theme.

India is taking a tightrope in the game of big powers, seeking balance and profit. From this background, Japan and India have initiated the Asian-African Growth Corridor to open up new links outside the Belt and Road Initiative. After the informal dialogue between the leaders of China and India in Wuhan, China has proposed the Chinese-Indian 2+1 format, jointly trained Afghan diplomats, launched joint construction projects in Afghanistan, and proposed the concept of 2+1 format for dialogue between China and India and Nepal, hope to find more flexible way. While there are still difference agreements between China and India, the possibility of cooperation can be maximized.

At the same time, Taiwan should also think about what is India's position in the new southbound policy target countries? What are the strategic objectives of the new southbound policy in the national strategy? How feasible is this policy to be effective in India? In addition to becoming a "Taiwan partner" against China, does Taiwan have a more flexible and changeable cooperation model with India?

China is the main national defense strategic enemy of Taiwan. Taiwan's southbound policy, which began in the Lee Teng-hui era, is to try to reduce its dependence on China's economy. In recent years, under the realistic considerations, Taiwanese businessmen have gradually moved from China to other Southeast Asian countries. The new southbound policy proposed by President Tsai Ing-wen has responded to this trend and tried to strengthen the connection between Taiwan and the ASEAN countries and South Asian countries. However, it is still unknown whether this policy really focuses on promoting the policy in the 18 new southbound countries or other purpose.

In terms of investing in India, if the goal of the new southbound policy is to help Taiwanese companies transfer from China to India and lead more Taiwanese companies to invest and set up factories in India, today after two years of new southward policy, how many industries or companies move to India?

In the past, the development of cross-strait economic and trade relations was basically civil and private enterprises. There were few official backgrounds or cooperation between state-owned enterprises. However, the exchanges and cooperation between the two sides of the petroleum industry were not only exceptional, but also made some progress. Taiwan CPC Corporation and China Sinopec have cooperated in the exploration of oil and gas fields around the East China Sea and Diaoyutai islands. Both sides are state-owned enterprises and have a certain symbolic significance of cross-strait government cooperation. Can such flexibility cooperation be reproduced in the new southbound policy?

The interesting that related to India is the case of Taiwan CPC 5th Naphtha Cracking Plant relocation project. It’s national-level enterprise investment project proposed by Taiwan. However, we have not seen the news and public opinions talking about this, event the government’s determination to cooperate with India in petrochemical industry on the new southward policy. The determination is even filled with the saying that "one daughter married with 2 persons" (Taiwan CPC 5th Naphtha Cracking Plant Relocation Project, Taiwan didn’t make it clear, both India and Indonesia actually want this project. Taiwan event signed MOU with both countries. However, it turned out to be Indonesia got this project, let India misunderstood and didn’t satisfy), let this important strategic investment output look not professional and eventually pushed the problem to the site selection to India. The Relocation the 5th Naphtha Cracking Plant didn’t successful in India and has undoubtedly given the most ruthless blow to the Taiwan government’s new southbound policy. Taiwan needs to hand over a brilliant transcript in India, while India, which is developing basic industries, needs an all-encompassing ally. The political issue is a dilemma of economic cooperation. Taiwan needs to be more flexible and think outside the framework.

India is the top priority of the new southbound policy. Although India values Taiwan's technology and investment, but they still doubts about One China Policy. Under such a realistic background, can Taiwan make flexible attempts to invite Chinese state-owned/semi-official companies to cooperate with local Indian companies? This is undoubtedly a highly sensitive attempt, but it is also a solution for India concern about the "one-China principle"- the three-way ride on the roller coaster to ensure that no one will derail. For Taiwan, the practical feasibility of the new southbound policy should be increased. For India, compared with the previous role as "Taiwan partner", India is equal to providing a good platform for cross-strait exchanges and cooperation,  so that India can intensify the industrial development without any concern, and thus become a model for cross-strait cooperation in the third place.

For "Policy Framework Action Guidelines of New Southbound Policy" Taiwan and China can remain the cooperation and consultation with the third place, in order to exert greater power. Like the China-India 2+1 format cooperation, the India-Japan Asian-African Growth Corridor, the US-India-Japan and India - China -Russia summit dialogue and so on, Does Taiwan have relevant countermeasures?

Writers: LIN, HSIAO-CHEN (林筱甄), Stacy YU (印度尤)