The Mayor of Taipei writes for The Sunday Guardian.
There are so many areas for India and Taiwan to have close cooperation, such as cultural heritage, strategic position, value system, and pragmatic benefits. Allow me to elaborate: both India and Taiwan have rich histories, religious diversity, multiple languages, and colonial pasts. Strategically, both are crucial parts of the Indo-Pacific region; India guards the seas from the Arabian Sea to the Malacca Straits, while Taiwan is located at a critical position in the First Island Chain and guards the Taiwan Straits. We both share the universal values of democracy, freedom, and human rights. And on the practical side, we can both achieve mutual benefits through collaboration between our large number of ICT hardware companies and software talents. The untapped potential is immense.
In spite of these synergies, gaps still remain in mutual understanding between India and Taiwan, with certain prejudices clouding people’s perceptions of the other side. In principle, Taiwanese are curious about India and open to exploring its diverse culture; traditional Indian festivals like Diwali and Holi are being widely celebrated in Taiwan these days, as Indian cuisine, movies, music, etc., all grow in popularity. However, Taiwanese businesses are not so proactive in investing in India, ranking far lower than their Japanese and South Korean counterparts, citing reasons such as unfamiliarity with the living environment and concerns about the infrastructure in India. In the other direction, while India has historically not shown a keen interest in Taiwan, recent geopolitical and regional tensions have prompted Indian media to extensively report on Taiwan. Although the situation is not something we desire, we do want to make use of this opportunity to help Indians better understand Taiwan, while simultaneously enabling Taiwan to better understand India. We hope using media to share our ideas and experiences can help to enhance bilateral exchanges and promote cooperation between the two sides.
I personally had the honour of leading a delegation to India in March 2017, during which I visited the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), an experience that left a deep impression on me. I witnessed that India is already a rising power, and it attaches great importance to education. Moreover, it has a huge pool of ICT talents, especially in the field of software. Here in Taiwan too, we attach equally great importance to talent and education, coupled with our strong ICT manufacturing base. I felt that this complementarity had to be nurtured, which is why I proposed a special initiative immediately after returning to Taiwan, “Northern Stream of Nanyang Talents—Taipei City ICT Southern Diamond Talent Convergence Plan”. This program offered scholarships to Indian students to study ICT-related masters and doctoral degrees at top Taiwanese universities, with opportunities for internships and factory visits. After graduation, alumni were matched with Taiwanese companies and got a chance to kick start their careers in Taiwan. Some of the graduates even assisted Taiwanese businesses to set up a presence in India, or returned to India to serve in managerial positions in the factories these Taiwanese companies established in India.
There are successful cases of some of the graduates of this program, and they are of the view that studying and living in Taiwan as a foreigner is comfortable. Mr Subhajit Nanda, a master graduate from National Taipei University of Technology and currently working in Taiwan, says to me: “Friendly and warm behaviour is universal i.e., both in university and workplace and where ever you go. Research facilities are well resourced. If anyone wants to explore their career on the field of Electronics and Machine Learning, Taiwan can be gold mine. Under this program, Taipei Computer Association along with Taipei City Government organized many talent fairs and face to face interviews, helping me land on my first job as an Artificial Intelligence Developer.”
Although this initiative is currently suspended due to budget cuts, there are still about 2,500 Indian students studying in Taiwan. As mayor, I have instructed the relevant departments of the city government to work with the Indian mission in Taiwan (India Taipei Association) and our industry sector to identify ways in which the cooperation can continue, so that we can assist Indian students in Taiwan to do internships in related enterprises in our city. After graduation, they could stay in Taiwan for employment or return to help Taiwanese businesses set up or manage factories in India. I believe they can play the role of a communication bridge between the two sides. This is a very practical and feasible step that we must take now.
There are also other areas where cooperation between India and Taiwan can be strengthened. Taipei City has sister city relationships with many municipalities around the world, and I hope we can have a sister city in India as well, ideally the capital New Delhi. We can work together on areas such as education, culture, public health, environment, technology, innovation, smart city and more, engaging in sustainable cooperation. In addition to expansion of the bilateral educational exchanges mentioned previously, at a more macro level I would like to propose a higher and broader “Taiwan-India Connectivity” initiative to enhance Taiwanese society’s understanding of India. We need to actively increase multilevel cooperation with India, encompassing industry, government, academia, think tanks, and NGOs. By setting up cooperative partnerships, we can create a proper platform for exploring more opportunities to strengthen the connection between India and Taiwan.
The Indian diaspora in Taiwan also plays an important role in improving understanding about India. It was with this purpose in mind that a social media page, https://www.facebook.com/IndiansInTaiwan was created to help Indians and Taiwanese understand each other. In addition, the Page manages two groups, one dedicated to helping Indians living in Taiwan, and the other exclusively supporting Indian students or alumni in Taiwan. The IIT-Indians in Taiwan agree with me that there should be more connections and cooperation between Taiwan and India, which is why the group featured the #75years75stories series to commemorate Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav and share important contributions to this relationship over the past few decades.
In closing, Taiwan has the will and the need to strengthen its partnership with India. Looking to the future, I sincerely hope that both sides can engage in mutual appreciation, mutual learning, and mutual growth. I will also make every endeavour to facilitate the partnership of mutual assistance, benefits and prosperity.
Wen-Je Ko is the Mayor of Taipei.