In his first interview to the Indian media since he took over as head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in New Delhi in September, Taipei’s de-factor ambassador Baushuan Ger said convergence on new security threats, such as disregard for shared norms and values by other nations and Covid-19, can add momentum to efforts to upgrade cooperation between India and Taiwan.
Ger said Taiwan is looking to India, as chair of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) executive board, to ensure the body takes a “leave no one behind” stance when considering Taiwan’s participation in WHO and related meetings and mechanisms.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Q. As you begin your term in India, what are your priorities for taking forward India-Taiwan relations?
A. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of our respective representations in New Delhi and Taipei. Taiwan and India are reliable and natural partners to each other. Our two countries share fundamental essential values such as freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Markedly, there is a vast intersection between India’s “Act East Policy” and Taiwan’s “New Southbound Policy”, which aims to enhance Taiwan’s relations with targeted 18 countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Oceania.
During my tenure, I will focus on people-to-people exchanges across areas such as trade and investment, science and technology as well as education and culture.
We are witnessing the restructuring of global supply chains that have created a lot of opportunities for Taiwan and India to further enhance our links in the area of manufacturing. We should, therefore, carefully appraise our respective positions and make policies to forge a stronger partnership.
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Q. With bilateral trade crossing $7 billion and recording growth of 40 per cent during 2017 and 2018, what more can be done to drive economic ties and investment?
A. A major factor driving rapid trade development are Taiwanese businesses integrating their supply and production chains with emerging opportunities in India to secure efficient production and low-cost benefit.
In India, Taiwanese businesses operate comprehensive industrial chains that focus on various products, such as medical devices, auto parts, machinery, steel, electronics, construction, engineering etc., most of which are ICT products. Closer trade and investment will benefit Indian industries and facilitate their partnership to connect with supply chains globally.
In terms of our industrial structures, Taiwan and India are very complementary. Therefore, I can see tremendous business opportunities and potential in our future cooperation. Taiwan and India should continue to engage with greater effort in building resilient supply chains across key sectors, increasing the value addition of industry, and leveraging Taiwan’s hardware production to link with India’s software service.
Q. There are reports that three Taiwanese suppliers of Apple Inc are planning to invest $900 million in India in the next five years. Are there plans to boost investments? Does Taiwan have plans to join India’s ‘Make in India’ initiative and to support India’s plans to become a hub for global supply chains?
A. Taiwan excels at hardware manufacturing while India’s expertise and competence lies in software development. India enjoys a demographic dividend as well as a perfect location with respect to market access in East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Responding to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have noticed that India has doubled down on its ‘Make in India’ initiative and Self-Reliant India (Atmanirbhar Bharat) to boost the economy and attract foreign investment. India, therefore, is invigorated to put more effort to attract Taiwanese businesses. Taiwan’s industries, especially ICT and electronics, have become technologically autonomous. We are glad to see India continue to improve its investment environment, as this benefits Taiwanese businesses looking to expand investment in India. Taiwan’s “Go South” synchronises with India’s “Act East”, creating a win-win for both.
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Q. You are beginning your tenure at a time when both Taiwan and India face challenges due to the actions of China. Is there scope for India and Taiwan to work together to overcome such challenges? Commentators in Taiwan and India have called for redefining the relationship between the two countries and making them more comprehensive. Should relations between the two sides be upgraded?
A. Enhancement of bilateral relations shall be based on the mutual interests of both countries rather than consideration of other external factors. In the past 25 years, both Taiwan and India have greatly benefited from the ever-growing trade and investment, education exchanges and technological collaborations. Now it is time for us to redefine our mutually beneficial objectives and the strategies to achieve them. Promoting economic connections and social exchanges remain the priority, but other new areas shall be taken into consideration. Economic diplomacy is the mantra. New security threats such as Covid-19, disobedience [of] shared norms and values, environmental disasters, as well as cybersecurity, are also becoming our common concerns.
I believe a convergence of such new security interests could further create the momentum to upgrade the cooperation framework between our two sides. India plays a key role in the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region and Taiwan is an essential partner in achieving the goal.
Q. How grave is the threat currently posed to Taiwan by China? Is the world community doing enough about this situation?
A. China’s attempts to intimidate Taiwan militarily have never ceased. It continues to dispatch military aircraft and vessels to circle Taiwan and provoke us. Since January this year to date, the PLA has dispatched more than 300 military aircraft to intrude into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ). Intrusions by a range of Chinese warplanes have become almost a daily occurrence. In response to the intrusions amid escalating cross-Taiwan strait tensions, Taiwan’s Air Force scramble jets to chase off the intruding Chinese aircraft, issue radio warnings and mobilise air defence systems to monitor their movements.
The US recently approved a sale of defensive weapons package worth US $600 million to Taiwan. The weapons will help Taiwan further enhance its ability to maintain cross-strait peace and regional stability. We are committed to upholding cross-strait stability, but this is not something Taiwan can shoulder alone; it is the joint responsibility of the international community.
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Q. Can India and Taiwan cooperate on international platforms such as the World Health Organization (WHO) as the global community explores ways to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and similar challenges in future? Would Taiwan expect countries such as India to back its efforts to become a member of WHO?
A. Taiwan sincerely congratulates India on its new role as chair of WHO’s Executive Board earlier this year. As the most important international organisation guiding the development of global public health and defending the right to health, WHO should welcome participation by all stakeholders, including Taiwan.
As viruses like Covid-19 acknowledge no borders, we hope, India will help ensure WHO maintains a professional and “leave no one behind” stance when considering issues related to Taiwan’s participation in the WHO and its related meetings, mechanisms and activities.
Q. How can India and Taiwan cooperate to overcome the health and economic impacts of the Covid-19 crisis? Is Taiwan looking to India for help with vaccines?
A. The Covid-19 pandemic has generated the worst global health, economic and social crises. No country, no economy, and no society can combat and counter this pandemic alone. Currently, the world is tackling another wave of the virus. The pandemic remains our most important issue to tackle.
Taiwan and India can work together to achieve a strong, resilient, green and inclusive recovery when fighting and containing the virus. We must continue to adopt all necessary measures and technologies to protect public health. Strong multilateral action is needed to match the level of ambition of national responses. International cooperation will be key to developing and distributing vaccines at large and to support countries and regions in need.