Amid growing number of international reactions to developments in the Taiwan straits and tensions between the U.S. and China, New Delhi chose to maintain a “studied silence” on the unfolding situation, omitting any mention of it even in talks held by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on the sidelines of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Phnom Penh. The decision not to issue a statement said officials and experts, is deliberate, as New Delhi seeks to avoid controversy on a sensitive issue between the U.S. and China, and also given that India, unlike other countries in the region, has not referenced the “One China” policy since at least 2010.
On Thursday, Mr. Jaishankar attended the ASEAN-India summit, and held talks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as well as Foreign Ministers of Australia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
Mr. Jaishankar called the talks with Ministers “productive” and “warm”, and said he had discussed a number of issues with ASEAN countries including the “Indo-Pacific, UNCLOS, connectivity, COVID-19, terrorism, cybersecurity, Ukraine and Myanmar”, without referencing the Taiwan situation.
“The two exchanged views on global and regional issues, including Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine and the implications it has had on food insecurity around the world, “ said the U.S. State department in its readout of the Jaishankar-Blinken meeting, adding that they also discussed Sri Lanka’s economic crisis and “promoting accountability for the [Myanmar] regime’s atrocities”.
‘A carefully decided one’
Officials and experts said New Delhi’s decision not to comment on the situation unfolding after the visit to Taipei by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking American to visit Taiwan in 25 years, followed by China’s sharp reaction, military exercises and missile tests, is a “carefully decided” one, aimed at ensuring India does not wish to cause a controversy with China at a sensitive time in border talks, but doesn’t wish to claim allegiance to the “One China policy”, either. “A loud silence is probably the best response to the situation,” a former senior official, now retired, said.
While India has followed the one China policy since 1949, indicating it does not recognise any government other than the PRC in Beijing, and only conducts trade and cultural ties with Taiwan, New Delhi stopped mentioning the policy in official statements and joint declarations after 2008. According to officials at the time, the government had taken the decision after a series of Chinese statements claiming Arunachal Pradesh as a part of the Chinese territory, renaming Arunachal towns with Mandarin names, and issuing “stapled visas” to Indian citizens who were residents of Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh.
In 2010, during meetings with President Hu Jintao in Brasilia, and Premier Wen Jiabao, joint statements with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not refer to the one-China principle. “The thinking was, why is there a need to reiterate the One-China policy when China was not taking our sensitivities into account, said one senior retired official, adding that it wasn’t a change in policy but a decision to not repeat it.” “We conveyed that if the Chinese side desired India to state the one-China policy, then it should respect a one-India principle,” said another former official. The officials confirmed that in 2014, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had endorsed the decision too.
In separate statements issued this week, however, ASEAN Foreign Ministers as well as countries in the region like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan had pointedly affirmed their commitment to the “One-China policy”. “Pakistan is deeply concerned over the evolving situation in the Taiwan Strait, which has serious implications for regional peace and stability,” said the statement issued by the Pakistani Foreign Office that said it “stands by” the One-China principle. Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry reiterated its “firm adherence” to the one-China policy as well.
The ASEAN statement that “reiterated member-states’ support for their respective One-China Policy” also warned that destabilisation in the region could spark “miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers”.
Even G-7 countries, that include the United States and Japan, said there was “no change in the respective one-China policies, where applicable, and basic positions on Taiwan of the G7 members”. However, the statement strongly criticised the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for its “threatening” and “escalatory” response to the Pelosi visit, which prompted Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to cancel his meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister in Phnom Penh.