In the protracted tit-for-tat between China and India, Taiwan is a symbolic battleground. But Taiwan’s leadership might be misunderstanding India’s intentions, and must be wary of India’s record on human rights.

India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) congratulated Taiwan on its national day by putting up posters near the Chinese embassy in New Delhi. The Chinese embassy warned Indian media against pro-Taiwan coverage and called Tsai Ing-Wen “President.”

In response to China’s warning, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu tweeted: “#India is the largest democracy on Earth with a vibrant press & freedom-loving people. But it looks like communist #China is hoping to march into the subcontinent by imposing censorship, #Taiwan’s Indian friends will have one reply: GET LOST!”

President Tsai then expressed fondness for Indian culture and tweeted photos of herself by the Taj Mahal. She reminisced about her own experience of India’s “architectural marvels, vibrant culture & kind people.” A meme referring to the “Milk Tea Alliance,” made up of pro-democracy supporters in Taiwan, Thailand, and Hong Kong, depicted President Tsai toasting bubble tea to Modi’s chai.


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves as he leaves after addressing the nation during Independence Day celebrations at the historic Red Fort in Delhi, India, August 15, 2019.

These digital expressions of solidarity come at a time when tensions between India and China are heightened because of a disputed territory on the Ladakh border, which recently saw the first fatality between the two nuclear powers since 1975. India-China relations have since deteriorated rapidly with more conflicts beyond the border.

China announced plans to construct mega-dams on the lower reaches of the Yarlung Tsangpo, which flows through Tibet and is a vital source of water for northeast India. The new hydroelectric projects would severely threaten its economy. In retaliation, India signaled interest in a new trade deal with Taiwan that could help further India’s smartphone production. This is, of course, to China’s great displeasure.

India’s exclusionary nationalism

India may be — nominally — the world’s largest democracy, but the idea that it’s a haven for free press and human rights is immensely misguided. India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting regularly monitors and censors news that reports violence against Muslims, Christians, and people from lower castes.

India’s exclusionary nationalism has found international resonance among other populists, most prominently, the theatrical alliance between Narendra Modi and Donald Trump (we would be remiss to ignore the latter’s challenge to America’s nominally-democratic status quo).

But the secularism and religious freedom enshrined in Taiwan’s constitution is a reason to distance from India, where hate crimes against religious minorities have surged following Modi’s re-election, and often went unpunished.

One need not look further than the complete information blackout in Kashmir following India’s annexation of the contested territory. Kashmiri people were devoid of any contact with the outside world: deprived of Internet access, forbidden to leave their homes, left in utter darkness to the whereabouts and safety of their families.


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

Kashmiris shout slogans in Anchar neighborhood after Friday prayers during restrictions following scraping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the Indian government, in Srinagar, September 20, 2019.

Though Joseph Wu might be right that India is filled with “freedom-loving people,” Modi’s government seems intent on restricting it, and punishing anyone who dares to protest.

Currently, an 83-year-old Jesuit priest, Fr. Stan Swamy, is languishing in prison over unproven allegations of affiliating with Maoists. As an advocate for Indigenous people’s rights, Swamy had simply challenged the arrests of several Adivasis accused of Maoist organization. Swamy has requested a straw and sipper to drink water because of his Parkinson’s disease; the Indian government has denied hearing his request for 20 days.

This mistreatment of dissenters and restriction of freedoms must alarm boosters of Taiwan’s relationship with India. International solidarity is crucial in Taiwan’s struggle for autonomous recognition, but the country is unlikely to find an ally truly committed to democratic ideologies in India’s government.

The BJP’s continued erosion of protection for religious minorities, increased privatization at the expense of local communities, environmental destruction, and exploitation of threatened populations like Kashmiris under false pretenses of national unity run counter to the democratic ideals many in Taiwan celebrate. Taiwan deserves better.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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