NEW DELHI: India tested China’s sensitivities on Taiwan on Saturday, when in a rare move the government expressed sympathy after a serious railway accident killed over 50 people on the island on Friday.
In a tweet that was significant for its geopolitical signalling, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, “We are deeply saddened by the loss of so many lives in the railway accident in Taiwan. Our deepest condolences to the families. And our prayers for the early recovery of the injured.”
In response, the Taiwanese foreign ministry and minister Joseph Wu tweeted back in gratitude: “Thank you @MEAIndia for the sincere message of concern & condolences. The government is working to ensure rescue & recovery efforts continue apace while making certain those affected receive all requisite support.”
The Indian tweet and the Taiwanese response is unlikely to go unnoticed on the mainland as the expression of sadness is another instance of India making it clear that resetting India-China ties is not possible if the borders remain unsettled.
Wu tweeted, “This genuinely friendly gesture will touch the people, & bring Taiwan & India closer in a real & lasting manner. JW” A passenger train carrying almost 500 people crashed with a truck in a tunnel in Hualien in eastern Taiwan on Friday, killing 50 people and injuring many more.
The MEA tweet is an innocuous expression of condolence, but its significance lies in the fact that India is, for probably the first time, pushing the envelope on Taiwan. Although India has said for some time that it expects China to respect a “one-India” policy if it wants reciprocity on “one-China” policy, India has refrained from testing the boundaries of this. The eastern Ladakh conflict between India and China starting in April 2020 changed all that.
India’s extension of a diplomatic hand to Taiwan comes days after a sitting US ambassador visited Taiwan earlier this week for the first time in 40 years (since 1979).
John Hennesey-Niland, US ambassador to Palau, became the first sitting envoy to travel to Taiwan in an official capacity since Washington cut formal ties with Taipei in favour of Beijing in 1979. He travelled with the president of Palau, Surangel Whipps Jr., to open a travel “bubble” between Palau and Taiwan.
In his official remarks there, the US envoy reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening ties with Taiwan under the most recent US legislation.
On Saturday too, Chinese anti-submarine aircraft entered Taiwan’s airspace and left only when Taiwan scrambled its jets. China has increased its intrusions on Taiwan’s airspace and ADIZ since 2020, mostly to signal dominance of the region.
However, officials and analysts have also noted that China’s recent aggressive behaviour with regard to Taiwan has grown more belligerent and is almost pushing a confrontation.
India too has stepped up its own diplomatic pressure on China, especially as the disengagement has stalled in eastern Ladakh after the first actions at Pangong Tso, where India disengaged from the Kailash range that it had dominated. But since then, there has been no further movement with China.
On Friday, MEA spokesperson cautioned, “We hope that the Chinese side will work with us to ensure that disengagement in the remaining areas is completed at the earliest. This would allow both sides to consider de-escalation of forces in eastern Ladakh as that alone will lead to the restoration of peace and tranquillity and provide conditions for progress of our bilateral relationship.”