1. What Should India Do Before the Next Taiwan Strait Crisis?
- Vijay Gokhale
- Publication Date:
- Content Type:
- Working Paper
- Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
- In the next two decades, the Taiwan question is likely to assume increasing importance for the Indo-Pacific region. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is becoming more assertive about unifying Taiwan with the mainland, and it is also making progress toward establishing the military capability toward this end. For a rising PRC seeking to establish itself as the dominant global power, it is untenable that a part of its territory remains outside its control. Possible endeavors toward establishing this control could lead to a response by the United States, which would have broader ramifications for the region and the world. For the United States, any endeavors by the PRC to this end would undermine the very core of the idea that the United States is the defender of freedom and democracy across the world, thus undermining its credibility. It might also deal a devastating blow to the United States’ global power. In this context, and given the significance of Taiwan to both countries, it is an issue that can rapidly escalate, making it a matter of concern in the Indo-Pacific. Further, a conflict over Taiwan would dwarf the global economic fallout that began when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. Short of conflict, Chinese coercion of Taiwan could disrupt the freedom of navigation and sea lanes of communication through the Taiwan Strait and will have severe consequences for Asian geopolitics and geoeconomics. Given India’s substantial geopolitical and geoeconomic interests in the region and its long history of exchanges with East and Southeast Asia, India should pay constant and careful attention to this issue. Further, a policy to respond to various contingencies must be thought through and put into place. This paper tries to look at the possible policy that India might adopt ahead of a major crisis in the Taiwan Strait. The paper proceeds in three parts. The first part analyzes the geopolitical and geoeconomic consequences of another Taiwan Strait crisis for India. While it is difficult to estimate the actual damage that would be dealt to the Indian economy, it is clear that all segments of the economy would be affected, with the impact possibly substantial enough to set India back several years. A crisis would also impact India’s geopolitical interests and national security, given that China is increasing its assertiveness both along the Line of Actual Control as well as in the Indian Ocean. The second part argues against a commonplace view that India played no role in crisis management during earlier periods of high tension in the Taiwan Strait—the 1954–55 and 1958 Taiwan Strait Crises, also known as the First and Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, respectively. By using archival material in the United States, the United Kingdom, and India, it seeks to dispel the above notion and that Taiwan ceased to be a matter of interest for India after it had recognized PRC’s claim over Taiwan in 1950. Further, it looks at the lessons for policymaking from India’s handling of the crises. The third part of the paper briefly traces the history of India-Taiwan relations following India’s transfer of its diplomatic recognition to the PRC till the present day. It provides an overview of India’s Taiwan policy. Given that a war in the Taiwan Strait is not beyond reasonable doubt, it then discusses the scenarios India might find itself in and the possible policies to respond to these scenarios. It recommends a close following of the U.S.-ChinaTaiwan strategic triangle, a whole-of-government assessment around impacts of a Taiwan Strait contingency, and an assessment of policy options. It also recommends mapping the expectations that China and the United States would have of India, along with undertaking consultations with key partners on the Taiwan question.
- Foreign Policy, Geopolitics, Crisis Management, and Geoeconomics
- Political Geography:
- South Asia, India, Taiwan, Asia, and Indo-Pacific