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Presence of Three Former Chiefs in Taiwan, What’s the Signal?


In what surprised many observers and gladdened the hearts of the hawks in Delhi who have been indicating that India should abandon the policy of ambiguity with reference to Taiwan, three retired service chiefs of the Indian Armed Forces, are visiting Taiwan to attend Tack 2 events in the country.


Former army chief General Manoj Naravane, navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh and air chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria are in Taiwan to attend the Ketagalan Forum hosted by Taiwan’s foreign ministry.


“Taro Aso, former Prime Minister of Japan and current member of the House of Representatives and Vice President of the LDP, and Andrus Ansip, former Prime Minister of Estonia, will deliver keynote speeches. The roster of other guests comprises 14 parliamentarians, political figures, scholars, and experts from 12 countries, including Admiral Karambir Singh, Chairman of India’s National Maritime Foundation," reads a press release from Taiwan’s foreign ministry.


While retired chiefs like other armed forces officers may be seen as public figures, the presence of the three at one time in Taipei would have been approved if not stage managed by India’s foreign policy and security establishment.


So what is the signal that the India seeks to send to Beijing?


What is the Ketagalan Forum?


The Ketagalan Forum is hosted by the Prospect Foundation Taiwan supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the country. This year subjects for discussion included, “situation across the Taiwan Strait and the global security order; the challenges of information warfare, cognitive warfare, and other gray-zone tactics and their impact on democracy; and the restructuring of international supply chains, including Taiwan’s role in this process”.


Of the keynote speakers, Taro Aso former Prime Minister is known to be hawkish on China and has indicated as per the Reuters in the past that he called “invasion of Taiwan by China a "threat to Japan's survival" and said Japan and the U.S. would defend Taiwan together should such an incident happen”.


China responded by saying that the remarks "harmed the political foundation of China-Japan relations."


At the forum this year he called for a strong resolve for Taiwan's defence if attacked. "I believe that now is the time for Japan, Taiwan, the United States and other like-minded countries to be prepared to put into action very strong deterrence," he said in remarks streamed online. "It's the resolve to fight," and showing the will to do so as a form of deterrence.


Indian Navy Chief’s Comments


India’s former Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh’s comments on the You Tube video of the Forum indicates a very balanced approach to the developments globally and regionally clearly indicating that India does not want China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea replicated elsewhere -implying the Line of Actual Control and the Indian Ocean.


The three year standoff on the LAC has increased India’s awareness of the direct challenge posed by China and is to be ready to face the same indicated Singh in telling remarks.


Admiral Singh while highlighting the present geopolitical divide indicated that any conflict over Taiwan will have impact across the globe economic as well as political which could be best avoided and has adopted a multi alignment policy to stay above the power divide.


What’s the Signaling?


While India has a vibrant trade relationship with Taiwan, the official government policy promotes the same devoid of any official diplomatic contacts given the One China policy.

Expanding this to the quasi military sphere is indeed a new development, and how China reacts to the same remains to be seen.


While Admiral Singh did not allude to any Indian direct involvement in the conflict in the Taiwan Straits his mention of the LAC standoff and India’s clear stance on meeting China’s aggressiveness should leave no doubts in Beijing that there will be no quarters given in the field of defence and security.


By making such comments in Taipei in the presence of his colleagues from the Army and the Air Force, Singh denoted that India was willing to take the “battle,” far and afar.


At the recent meeting, between Mr Wang Yi, Director of the Foreign Affairs Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and now also the Foreign Minister with Indian National Security Adviser Mr Ajit Doval in Johannesburg on the sidelines of the BRICS National Security Advisers meet on 24 July, Mr Doval highlighted the strategic distrust between leaders of the two Asian mega powers.


The presence of the three chiefs will only add to the mistrust and the possibility of a bilateral as envisaged between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in South Africa appears unlikely for now and may be even during the G 20 summit in September.


Nevertheless, India’s willingness to expand the diplo-political envelope to Taipei is expected to have a sharp reaction from Beijing, so be it.

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