Taipei: Clearly articulated policy frameworks play a crucial role in determining a country’s foreign relations. Such frameworks are most affected in dealing with a specific theme or approach vis-à-vis a particular region.
India’s Look East Policy, upgraded as Act East Policy by the Narendra Modi government is a classic example in that regard.
Strategic use of think tanks and their public events to articulate foreign policy agenda has been one of the key steps the Modi government has taken. Whether it is the India’s Ministry of External Affairs-funded Raisina Dialogue or the use of the Singapore-based Shangri La Dialogue as a platform, PM Modi has made think tanks all the more relevant in policymaking.
On a similar note, Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy also has a clear objective to engage with the countries of South, Southeast Asia, as well as Australia and New Zealand. What connects these two policies is the increasing focus of their respective policies to engage the countries in the region.
There is little doubt that under Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, Taiwan’s external engagement has acquired greater priority. Like India’s Act East Policy, Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy is also getting action-oriented to engage its Asian partners. A number of diplomatic, economic, and people-centric initiatives have been taken to bolster Taiwan’s regional partnerships since 2016.
India is a key focus country under the New Southbound Policy. Ever since Tsai Ing-wen assumed the President’s office, there has been a sustained focus on building better ties under the New Southbound Policy framework, especially India. Several steps have been taken to intensify cooperation with India and further institutionalise the relationship. One of the first steps taken in that direction was to establish the India-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Forum in December 2016, that was revived in 2020. The revival of the Forum will facilitate intensive dialogues among parliamentarians from the two democracies.
President Tsai Ing-wen’s government has also emphasised on the think tank collaboration as one of the key priorities under the policy. Interaction among policy circles, strategists, and think tankers are given due attention in the New Southbound Policy showcasing Taiwan’s calibrated approach. With Taiwan’s growing interest in Asia and India, its think tanks are expanding to include India as an important area of policy deliberation. To increase the strategic exchanges between Taiwan and the New Southbound Policy partner countries, the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation (TAEF) was established in 2018, and launched the Yushan Forum, an annual flagship conference to interact with the decision makers, strategic community, opinion leaders of civil societies, and non-governmental organisations’ representatives in Asia and beyond, and present it as a testimony to Taiwan’s commitment to engage Asia. TAEF has been holding the Yushan Forum since 2018, which has witnessed Tsai in attendance. It was at the Yushan Forum that Tsai clearly articulated its Asian policy by stating, “Taiwan helps Asia, Asia helps Taiwan.”
Very little is known in India about Taiwan’s strategic culture and even less about its diverse think tanks. India, with its rising profile, must engage Taiwan’s think tanks and its ever-growing strategic community. Taiwan too is trying to increase its interaction with the Indian think tanks. In the past, a number of Indian think tanks organised in-person and virtual dialogues on Taiwan, and some with Taiwanese think tanks. One such dialogue was held by TAEF and India’s premier think tank, Observer Research Foundation when Gourangalal Das, India’s Representative to Taiwan called think tanks as an intermediary in the absence of formal diplomatic ties.
India and Taiwan share similar strategic concerns and shared interest, that make their strategic circle somewhat similar. However, despite shared interests and the indispensability of Taiwan in the rule-based liberal international order, think tanks in India and Taiwan still interact in an ad hoc manner. Even though signs of change are gradually emerging.
A few steps could be taken in that regard to institutionalise bilateral think tank interactions and collaborations. First, Taiwanese and Indian think tanks should enter into memoranda of understanding, and as a part of the agreement, an annual dialogue should take place in Taiwan and India alternatively.
Second, an India-Taiwan think tank network could be established with leading Indian and Taiwanese experts deliberating upon and publish policy documents at regular intervals. Third, Taiwan organises annual dialogue such as the Yushan Forum and India also holds annual dialogues such as the Delhi Dialogue and the Raisina Dialogue with the objective to engage the policymakers, strategists, think tankers from like-minded countries. More interaction and brainstorming on bilateral collaboration between Taiwan and India should be facilitated and presented through the dialogue forums to deliver a strong message to the people of respective countries and share pragmatic recommendations to both governments.
Facing the common challenges posed by Covid-19, both India and Taiwan have been fighting the pandemic and moving in the same direction to facilitate the post-pandemic recovery. Taiwan’s 2021 Yushan Forum, with the theme of “Resetting Priorities of Progress with Resilience” could be an important venue for both India and Taiwan to seek joint solutions for a better and robust future.
Such steps will help foster better understanding of strategic perception and concerns of friends and challenges posed by common adversaries. India and Taiwan can immensely benefit from such an initiative, if implemented systematically.
Sana Hashmi is a visiting fellow at the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation. Alan Yang is distinguished professor at National Chengchi University and executive director of Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation (TAEF), Taiwan.