Remarks come amid spat with China over docking of ship in Sri Lanka

India has for the first time referred to what it called “the militarisation of the Taiwan Strait”, marking a rare instance of New Delhi appearing to comment on China’s actions towards Taiwan.

The reference to Taiwan, in a statement late on Saturday issued by the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka, marked a more pronounced expression of New Delhi’s views over the situation in the Taiwan Strait than its previous response on August 12 to China’s military drills, conducted in the wake of the visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) did not refer to “militarisation” of the Strait, only saying India was “concerned at recent developments” and “urge[d] exercise of restraint, avoidance of unilateral actions to change status quo, de-escalation of tensions and efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region.” When asked at an August 12 briefing if India would, as Beijing had requested, reiterate its commitment to a “One China policy”, the MEA said “India’s relevant policies are well-known and consistent” and “do not require reiteration”.

The latest reference to Taiwan came amid a spat with China over the visit this month of a Chinese military tracking vessel Yuan Wang 5 to Hambantota in Sri Lanka. Responding sharply to remarks made by the Chinese Ambassador in Sri Lanka referring to “aggression” faced by Sri Lanka from its “northern neighbour”, the Indian High Commission termed his comments “a violation of basic diplomatic etiquette” saying they “may be a personal trait or reflecting a larger national attitude.”

The High Commission said the statement was “in response to queries concerning the article by Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka which, inter alia, drew connection between militarisation of Taiwan Straits and visit of China’s Yuan Wang 5 ship to Hambantota.”

Earlier this month, Foreign Ministers of the G7 — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, U.K., and U.S. — expressed concerns about China’s military activity in the Strait, referring to “threatening actions” by China and saying there was “no justification to use a visit as pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait”.

In the recent article, the Chinese envoy to Sri Lanka rejected that charge, saying “China has every reason to respond unhesitant to the severe impacts caused by the Taiwan visit of Speaker Pelosi”. He drew a link between the Taiwan situation and the visit of the Yuan Wang 5, which India had opposed. “Those two matters may seem irrelevant and thousands of miles apart, but both share a same great significance between China and Sri Lanka, that is to jointly safeguard each other’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity,” he said. Sri Lanka was among countries that supported China by reiterating the “One China policy” amid the Taiwan tensions.

India has followed a “One China policy” since its recognition of the PRC in 1949, and only maintains trade and cultural relations with Taiwan. India routinely reiterated this policy until 2008, after which it stopped mentioning it in official statements, a demand that China usually asks of most countries in official declarations. Officials at the time said there was no need for India to reiterate publicly a policy it was anyway following, particularly after Chinese statements claiming Arunachal Pradesh and moves to issue “stapled visas” to Indian citizens in Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal.