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TIBET TODAY, TAIWAN TOMORROW?Adityanjee
President, Council for Strategic Affairs, New Delhi
The latest Taiwanese presidential elections, characterized by a high voter turnout of 76 per cent, brought the opposition Kuomintang Nationalist Party (KMT) back to power in Taiwan. The KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou won by 58 per cent of the votes against the 42 per cent obtained by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, Frank Hsieh. Taiwanese voters were more concerned with corruption scandals during eight years of DPP rule under Chen Shui-bian. Both the DPP and KMT sponsored referendum proposals on UN membership were defeated. In January 2008, the KMT had won the Taiwanese parliamentary elections with three-fourths of the parliamentary seats. Former president Lee Teng-hui of KMT had supported DPP's Hsieh anticipating that KMT will control both the presidency and the legislature if Hsieh lost, creating a dangerous imbalance of power.
Recent Chinese repression in Tibet forced even Ma Ying-jeou to call for boycott of Beijing Olympics. Earlier he had called for a peace treaty with China and a three point program for closer ties. DPP and Hsieh had used the last few days of campaigning to highlight Taiwanese outrage over China's brutal repression in Tibet. Hsieh had warned that similar Chinese repression could be anticipated in Taiwan in case the proposed process of reunification goes ahead. Turmoil in Tibet touched the Taiwanese citizens but it did not alter the outcome of the election. In a sense Tibet demonstrated to Taiwanese voters what "peaceful reunification with the mainland" would mean in case the KMT were to sign a peace treaty with the PRC.
In 1996, China had lobbed missiles across the Taiwan Strait prior to Taiwanese elections. This time, premier Wen Jiabao had threatened the Taiwanese voters against passing the referendum to join UN warning of dire consequences. Two US aircraft carriers had positioned themselves in the Taiwan Strait to prevent the repeat of 1996 Chinese behavior. Outgoing President Chen Shui-bian had restricted Taiwanese investment in China during his eight year rule in order to reduce the island's dependence on its giant and expansionist neighbor. Ma has proposed a more conciliatory policy with China compared to Hsieh who accepted the DPP's Taiwanese independence platform. Although both the US and China have cautiously welcomed Ma's election, next four years would continue to be tricky for the China-Taiwan relationship with possible freezing of the status quo. Ma wishes to open up more people to people linkages across Taiwan Strait while not agreeing for reunification. He wants to lower fiscal barriers to Taiwanese investment on the mainland China and would start direct air and maritime services with the mainland. Ma is also interested in expanding the China-Taiwan high-tech collaboration. Taiwanese businessmen already have invested US$100 billion in China. It is unlikely that in current charged atmosphere with suspicion about China's intentions being heightened, there will be a peace treaty signed in the next 2-3 years. There is a remote possibility of fiscal disinvestment in view of changed perception of China resulting from the Chinese repression of Tibetan protestors. The cross-Straits ties would be further strained if Ma carries his threat of boycott of the Beijing Olympics.
In the hypothetical scenario that Taiwanese disinvestment of US$100 billion from China does become a reality India needs to exploit that opportunity for investments into its physical infra-structure that needs approximately US$300 billion of new capital. Though India does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it does have commercial relations. Indo-Taiwanese economic relationship needs to be strengthened as Taiwan is an Asian democracy with the rule of common law and a respect for human rights. Taiwan currently has a foreign exchange reserves worth US$277 billion. Taiwan has toyed with the idea of starting a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF). There is no existing security threat to India from Taiwan and hence SWF capital from Taiwan should be acceptable without the risk of industrial espionage, theft of trade secrets or potential loss of intellectual property rights.
India's private sector needs to explore ways as to how Taiwanese capital could be tapped in joint Indo-Taiwanese business ventures. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Infosys, and Wipro could explore joint-ventures between Indian High-tech sector and the Taiwanese hardware companies. Indian tourism sector can get a tremendous boost if we can promote the Buddhism Tourism Circuit to the cash-surplus Taiwanese besides the Japanese tourists. Indian civil society and Indian business community need to leverage the "soft power" of India and her civilizational assets in forging strong people to people as well as economic, and mercantile relationships with Taiwan.
If China can accept FDI from Taiwan, so should India. If India can attract flow of "clean" capital without "geopolitical" strings attached, it will be welcomed by Taiwan which currently has surplus of it. It will be a win-win game for both India and Taiwan as Taiwan will get a good and trust-worthy economic partner with rule of law in lieu of China, should Taiwanese businessman decide to disinvest from China. As they say, the only business of the business is to do business. Taiwan is a ripe candidate for doing business with.