India eyes potential Taiwanese investments

Tuesday, 31 December 2002, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: India's concerns about Chinese sensitivities have for long hindered development of strong bilateral economic ties with cash-rich Taiwan.

But that may well be changing.

An indication that New Delhi is gradually, if hesitantly, altering its hands-off policy towards Taipei came with the visit of a high-level Taiwanese delegation here in early December.

The visit by the 22-member delegation -- consisting of representatives of four political parties, industry and business, scientists and technologists -- was the first such by a multi-disciplinary team from Taiwan.

"We have been unnecessarily sensitive about developing our economic ties with Taiwan," said G. Parthasarathy, a former envoy to Australia and Pakistan who has visited Taiwan.

"There should really be no inhibition on Indian economic ministries and commercial entities being involved with their counterparts in Taiwan to promote trade, commerce and investment and ties," Parthasarathy told IANS.

Taiwan, which has the third largest foreign exchange reserves in the world ($109.13 billion) after Japan and China, had a total trade volume of $288.33 billion in 2000, with exports accounting for $148.3 billion and imports $140 billion.

But its two-way trade with India accounts for only a little over $1 billion, as against more than $24 billion with China.

China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory and slams countries that question its "one-China" policy, has successfully compartmentalised political issues from economic ones in its dealings with Taipei, which is among the top investors in the mainland.

"The whole world is dealing with Taiwan; why shouldn't we?" asked former foreign secretary J.N. Dixit.

He said while India was still maintaining a "minimum level of equation" with Taiwan, the latter wanted "something more from us".

"Why should we be more sensitive (to China's concerns) than ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) countries?" asked Parthasarathy, adding New Delhi was being "overcautious" in opening up to Taiwan.

He noted all ASEAN countries had strong trade links with Taiwan, though they had no formal diplomatic ties.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed has visited Taiwan thrice, despite angry noises by Beijing. Analysts say Mahathir's visit sent a powerful message, and Taiwan responded with ample investments in Malaysia.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had visited Taiwan in the 1950s and 1960s as an MP and several other Indian parliamentarians have also been there. But there has been no ministerial visit from India, officially or unofficially.

"You have to assess if opening up of our lines (to Taipei) will benefit us," said Dixit, noting that most ASEAN countries had large Chinese populations.

Though India and Taiwan have no formal diplomatic ties, New Delhi maintains an India-Taipei Association office headed by a retired diplomat in the Taiwanese capital while Taiwan has a Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre here.

"Your country can learn something from mainland China," Simon Hsieh, the director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre, told IANS.

He said Beijing welcomed Taiwanese investments and sent Chinese provincial officials to Taiwan on "private visits" to woo investors.

Simon noted that Taiwan was a world leader in computer hardware while India was an acknowledged power in software.

"This provides the best opportunity for cooperation. By marrying our hardware and your software strengths, we can have IT partnership that is of mutual benefit."

Some 5,000 Indian software engineers were working in Taiwan and a Taiwanese business delegation had visited Bangalore to recruit more to meet the country's growing needs, he added.
Source: IANS
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