Updated: Sep 1, 2022
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Starting this May 2020, India has an opportunity that is of historical significance. The choice India makes has the potential to change the course of politics in the region. India is set to take over from Japan as the Chair of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) decision-making Executive Board this month. India will hold the Chair for the next three years and it has a crucial decision to make. Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), has been knocking at the doors of the WHO to be included as an Observer. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), shortly China, based on the Principle of ‘One China Policy’, has been opposed to the inclusion of Taiwan in any International Forum of significance, including the WHO. China believes that Taiwan is an inalienable part of it and denies Taiwan a rightful place in International Organizations of importance.
India should unequivocally, support Taiwan’s candidature for the Observer status in the WHO as that is certainly the right thing to do both from the Moral and the National Interest perspective. It is the least that the Democracies of the World can do to a fellow Democracy that has evolved as a champion upholding the values of individual liberty and freedom, justice, transparency and development to all while protecting and caring for the environment. Supporting Taiwan in this crucial moment is in the spirit of high moral values propounded by the champions who believed in the freedom of man.
The Moral Perspective: Democracy and institutions
Taiwan is a vibrant, dynamic democracy. It may not be perfect. But there are no perfect democracies. As we know there is always room for improvement. Having said that, it takes the effort of an entire generation to build a society that can manage its internal differences as maturely as Taiwan. It is true that every Presidential Election in Taiwan since 2000 has brought to fore the question of independence which has sharply divided the society into pan-blue and pan-green. But, isn’t it only natural that a society with a mature democracy that respects the rights of its citizens, treating all ethnic groups with a sense of equality, transparency and justice will have reservations about being absorbed by an opaque neighbour with scant respect for Human Rights?
As a PhD student of the Department of Diplomacy in NCCU, Taipei, I had the opportunity to observe the Taiwanese society and listen to the heated debates in different forums. Admirably, on none of the occasions, the differences of opinion led to the kind of mob violence we see during elections in many parts of the world. Be it the Red Shirt Movement in 2007 or the Presidential Elections in 2008 where the society was sharply divided, the processions went off peacefully. It requires political maturity to deal with the differences in the way Taiwanese society does.
Public Governance in Taiwan has much to be appreciated. The public healthcare system in Taiwan and the National Health Insurance system which covers almost 99% of the population in Taiwan are role models for the rest of the world. Also with low rates of crime, Taiwan is one of the safest places on earth, particularly for women. Importantly, lack of corruption at the societal level makes Taiwan a great place for foreigners. Honesty and integrity in public services at the level of the common man is something that many societies including ours have a long way to go. A society that has genuinely achieved such levels of political and social development deserves the backing of the world. It is also in the interest of the global community to support Taiwan.
The National Interest Perspective: Economic and Industrial Collaborations
Taiwan is a small island with a land area of just one percent of that of India. But it is a treasure island. With a population of just 1.75% of that of India, Taiwan generated a GDP of 18% of that of India in 2019. It is the Social Capital and the Human Capital which are the real treasures of this island.
Taiwan’s contributions to the world of technology, innovation and commerce are well known. With forty percent of Taiwan’s trade volume relying on China, Taiwan’s contribution to China’s economy cannot be ignored as well. Given the political realities faced by Taiwan, the Taiwanese Governments have been pursuing the “Go South” policy since the 90s. Under President Tsai Ing-wen the New Southbound Policy has been given much importance and it is aimed at improving the relationships with South Asia, South East Asia and Australasia. India, with its own ‘Act East Policy’, has much to gain by strengthening its relationship with Taiwan by collaborating on various areas of common economic interests.
One such area where India can benefit tremendously is to collaborate with Taiwanese Universities, engage with Civil Society Organizations and businesses to promote Circular Economy. Taiwan, thirty years ago, was called “Garbage Island”. The waste management infrastructure that exists in Taiwan today is one of the best in the world and today it’s a world leader in recycling. If only India could collaborate with Taiwan in understanding the role played by the successive Governments, NGOs like Tzu Chi Foundation under the leadership of Master Zheng Yen and companies like Da Ai Technologies, we would able to deal with the mounting problems of waste in India successfully within our lifetimes.
While supporting Taiwan to be represented in the WHO is in the interest of the Global Community to learn from the measures taken by Taiwan to deal with the present and future outbreaks, it is in the interest of India to join the coalition of nations that facilitate Taiwan’s participation. Taiwan has the potential to be a partner in the growth ambitions of India. It is important to work with a willing competent partner while managing an ambitious competitor.
Covid-19 and the new imperatives
The CoVid – 19 poses challenges to our vision of the world. At the time of this article was being written, according to WHO reports over 4.218 million confirmed CoVid – 19 positive cases have been reported across 216 Countries or territories with 0.290 million deaths globally. Nations great and powerful are struggling. The Western World with all its advancements in science and technology, social and political development with a considerable investment in public health is suffering from the loss of human life unknown since World War II.
There are uneasy questions out there which China would do well, to be honest about. Questions about the origin of the virus, the actual number of deaths due to Covid-19 in China, the demand for China to compensate for the losses are growing amidst the pandemic. Taiwan which is at the doorstep of China effectively controlled the virus, with just 440 corona positive cases and 7 deaths, without having to resort to any of the draconian measures employed by China. How did Taiwan achieve that? The world deserves to know. The families of the 300,000 lives snuffed out abruptly have the right to know. For that Taiwan should be in a place to talk to the world directly. Hence it is in the interest of the global community to find Taiwan a place in the WHO. The world will also do well to remember the millions of masks and other equipment donated by Taiwan to fight Covid-19.
It is common to hear statements from the Chinese political brass that the world should understand and be sensitive to the “special situation” of China. Maybe it is not a bad idea for China to understand and be sensitive to what the world is going through. The world is trying to find a solution to the pandemic. If Taiwan has the solution, why shouldn’t the world give it a platform?
China claims that Taiwan is of core interest to it and any attempt of Taiwan to promote its international presence is detrimental to the core interests of China. The core interest of every national government is to protect its citizens. Taiwan just seems to have the right answers. Should the world ignore?
(Dr. Alagu Perumal Ramasamy holds a PhD in International Relations from the Department of Diplomacy, NCCU, Taipei, Taiwan. He was the recipient of Taiwan Fellowship 2019. He is a member, C3S, Chennai. The views expressed are personal.)